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Body changes – normal

Puberty and body changes can sometimes feel like they happened overnight.

Introduction

Puberty and body changes can sometimes feel like they happened overnight. Many changes happen throughout puberty and it can be hard to know what is ‘normal’. Supporting children with intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder to learn about, prepare for and manage their body changes can also feel like a daunting task.

Unfortunately there is no set age when puberty will begin, and no set order in which the changes will happen. In girls, puberty can start anywhere between the ages of 8 and 13. Boys tend to start puberty later, usually between the ages of 10 and 15.

Since you can’t tell whether your child will start puberty earlier or later, this means that you need to start preparing your child for puberty earlier than you might have thought.

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For everybody:

  • growth spurts in height and weight – See Growing Taller
  • increase in strength
  • increase in sweating and body odour – See Keeping Your Body Hygienic
  • increase in oily skin and development of pimples – See Pimples and Acne
  • growth of pubic hair and underarm hair, and thickening of the hair on the legs

The female body:

The male body:

It is a good idea to speak to your doctor if:

  • you’re concerned that your child has started puberty too early
  • you’re concerned that your child’s hasn’t started puberty yet
  • you’re not sure about what will happen during puberty because of your child’s disability or other health conditions
  • your child is finding any of the puberty changes especially painful or problematic
  • you have any other concerns about your child’s overall health and wellbeing during puberty

Conversation Starters

I think you grew taller overnight! It’s normal for your body to change and grow. Have you noticed any other changes you want to talk about?
I’m going to do the grocery shopping. Do you want to come with me and we can choose some special products for you? When you grow up, you get more special things like (deodorant, face wash, moisturiser, pads, etc.). Is there anything you can think of that you might like to buy to take care of your body?
Do you remember when (friend, family member, TV show character) was little? They are so big and grown up now! How can you tell that they are a grown up?

Strategies for you to try

Start the conversation early

Start talking about puberty early and avoid waiting until the changes start to happen. Your child will need time to adjust to the changes and to process the information and new skills they will be developing. It’s never too early to start communicating about body changes regardless of your child’s support and learning needs.

Keep it simple

Use resources that have easy English and pictures. Start with the basics and do not give all the information at once. Just like learning any other skill, start simple, move slow and steady, and repeat often.

Use the proper names for private body parts

Have a look at Private Body Parts to learn more about getting comfortable using the correct names for private body parts with your child. Using the proper names for private body parts can help your child develop self-protection skills and sets them up for success as an adult.

Remember, it is normal!

It can be upsetting to see your child turning quickly into a teen. It might be scary and confusing for your child and they may feel overwhelmed and anxious about the changes that are happening. It’s very important that we normalise body changes as much as possible and celebrate them as the next step into being a grown up.

You can help normalise body changes for your child by:

  • starting to talk about body changes early
  • reassuring them that everybody goes through these changes (even yourself!)
  • communicating that everyone’s body changes in a way that is just right for that person

Use teachable moments

Teachable moments are examples from everyday life that can be used to discuss topics of puberty. For example, you can use characters in a favourite show who grow up, or a friend/relative who is pregnant to prompt teaching.

starting to have acne

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Introduction to puberty for girls
Body changes – normal

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