Your child may feel uncomfortable or be unable to cope with some of the sensory changes in their body, growth spurts and emotions during puberty.
Looking for identity
Children often struggle for independence and a sense of self outside the family unit during puberty. This is no different for children with intellectual disability and/or autism spectrum disorder. Lots of things contribute to your child’s search for identity, including their gender and who they are attracted to. For more information, go to Supporting Sexual and Gender Identity.
Children can often feel upset about the changes in their life and the changes of people around them. They may feel lost because they want to fit into a friendship group but don’t know how, or because they are unsure about the changing expectations of what is “for kids” and what is “for adults”. For strategies on how to support your child to feel good about themselves, go to Creating a Positive Self Image.
During puberty, you may find your child is more and more influenced by things they see in the media and online, and in their peer circles. This may include peer circles at school, activity groups, or other support services they access. It’s very common for children to pick up behaviours and language from peers that might be “naughty” or inappropriate. Children may do these things for fun, to test boundaries, or because everybody else is doing it. Peer pressure can be a particular struggle for children with intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder who may not feel included in friendship groups. Read more about supporting your child with healthy friendships here.
It is very common for children’s moods to change rapidly as they grow through puberty. Your child may appear to be happy and then quickly become upset or irritated over seemingly small things. Their emotions can be bigger and more intense. These emotions can be very different to the emotions your child experienced when they were younger, which can be scary for parent and child. Read more about mood swings here.
As your child develops, they may start to feel self conscious about their changing body and may want more independence and privacy. Every child will grow at their own pace but it’s important to recognise that your child may feel awkward or embarrassed about these changes as they happen. If this is the case, it is a good time to think about how you can support your child to be more independent. You can do this by reinforcing your child’s understanding of public and private parts, behaviours and places, and also supporting them to be more independent in their personal care needs.
Developing sexual feelings
As your child goes through puberty you may find that there is an increase in private behaviours and interest in private body parts. They may start to talk about having sexual feelings about other people. This is normal and while this may seem scary for you, it is important not to shame or embarrass children about the development of their sexuality. Children may seek more private time at this stage of development and may begin to explore private behaviours like masturbation, so it can be an excellent time to reinforce the rules around public and private behaviours.