As a parent, you may wonder how you will approach the topic of menstruation with your daughter with autism. Here are 10 simple tips that may assist you with handling this very important conversation.
1. Start the conversation early
Autism doesn’t affect when girls start their periods. However, your daughter with autism may take longer to adjust and need additional support with handling everything. It is important that you, as a parent, start this conversation with your daughter early. Don’t wait until it actually occurs. Your autistic daughter will handle the situation better if she is aware of the facts and knows she can depend on you for assistance if needed.
Your daughter will pick up on your stress or reservation with regards to conversations about menstruation. Don’t feel awkward. It’s a natural part of your daughter’s life. Relax and reassure your daughter that it’s natural and nothing to worry about. Make sure your daughter knows you are always available to answer any questions or concerns.
3. Go shopping
Involve your autistic daughter in the process of buying all necessary items for her period. Take your daughter shopping and explain the different products that are available, such as sanitary pads and tampons. Let her make some decisions as to which she feels might be best for her. Also, consider purchasing some period-proof underwear that she may want to wear as she adjusts to her monthly periods.
4. Talking to other girls
Work with your daughter’s classroom teacher, counselor, or school nurse to see if there is a way to bring a group of girls together to discuss menstruation. Having conversations with peers of the same age is a great way for your daughter with autism to not only practice her social skills, but also gain the information she needs in a safe environment. Many girls rely on other girls to get meaningful information about their menstrual cycle. Your autistic daughter may be no different.
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5. Social rules
Have an open conversation with your daughter about the social rules concerning menstruation. Your daughter needs to know it’s something you don’t typically discuss openly at school or bring up with boys in the classroom. She may wonder why it is alright to discuss it with her dad and not boys from school. While you don’t want your daughter to feel embarrassed or develop a sense of shame about her period, you may need to work with her to understand how society views menstruation as a private topic.
6. Educate your daughter
Talk with your daughter to ensure she knows and understands the process her body goes through when she menstruates. There are so many great books out there that you can read together to prepare your daughter for this event.
Use adult language (not “baby-talk”) when communicating with your daughter. She needs to know the proper names for parts of her own body in case she needs to discuss a situation with her teacher, school nurse, or one of her female friends.
Most girls just want access to correct information when they start their period. Your daughter with autism is no different. Remember to emphasize that this is not a “one-time” event. She will have her period approximately every 28 days and it will generally last between four and seven days (allowing for many variations which may be perfectly normal or related to certain medical conditions). Make sure your daughter knows to inform you of any changes in her cycle or any discomfort she may experience.
7. Being prepared
Once your daughter with autism understands what will happen to her body, it is important that she is properly prepared. She may have her first period at school, and she’ll handle it a lot better if she has an idea of what to expect.
You can help your daughter prepare a backpack with: tampons, pads, period-proof underwear, and a change of clothing in case hers becomes soiled. Having these items in her backpack, school locker, or purse may give your daughter a sense of security and confidence.
8. Use of social stories and visuals
Your daughter with autism may benefit from visuals when discussing her period. Some parents have found social stories to be an effective aid for discussing topics like menstruation. Parents can Google the topic and search for social stories to use with their daughters.
Again, it’s best to start this conversation early and not wait until your daughter actually experiences her first menstrual cycle. Having to deal with her first menstrual cycle may be overwhelming in the beginning. Discussing the issue early and using visual supports may reduce some of her stress.
9. Side effects
Your daughter with autism may experience the same side effects many young women do when they enter puberty and have their period. These need to be explained to your daughter. As a parent, you may notice changes in mood or temperament based on the hormonal changes your daughter is experiencing.
It’s possible your daughter may experience symptoms like cramping, bloating, an irregular cycle, and acne accompanying her period. You may need to take your daughter to see her doctor to address any concerns.
10. Don’t fixate
Every girl’s body matures differently and your daughter may start her period earlier or later than the median age. You don’t want to be the over-anxious parent, constantly asking your daughter if she’s had her period yet.
Properly preparing her by having open conversations will generally encourage your daughter to tell you when she has her first period. Constantly asking if she’s started may cause your daughter unnecessary anxiety. It’s important to keep a good balance between educating and preparing your daughter and waiting.
The following social story could help you explain what periods are to your daughter:
My Menstrual Cycle – A Social Story
- During puberty, my body will change
- All girls’ bodies change at different ages and can look different from each other’s
- When my body changes I will get my period
- I will know I have my period because blood will come out of my vagina
- I will learn to use a tampon, pad, or period proof underwear
- My period will usually last three to eight days. If it lasts longer than eight days, I will let someone know
- I may feel tired, angry, or even sad. I might also experience a tummy or backache. This is normal and usually stops when my period stops
- I will usually have a period every 28 days (but this might vary a little)
- I will keep tampons or pads in my purse, backpack, or locker in case I need them at school
- I will keep extra clothes at school in case any of my clothing gets stained during my period
- I can always talk to my parents if I am worried about anything
This article was featured in Issue 123 – Autism In Girls