I know this is supposed to be Teens on the Tenth and I am aware it’s the 11th but I got ENGAGED this weekend so finishing proofreading this post took a back seat to drinking champagne and screeching on the phone with my friends! Still crazy excited and having a hard time focusing on getting back to reality and working today! Okay – personal side story over and onto the post:
I have to admit. I have been dreading this topic. It is by far the most challenging issue that I have with preteens and teens. The big kahuna (no pun intended) – dealing with sexual behaviors and the joys (or horrors) of puberty. Just writing these first few lines gives me anxiety. It’s so awkward, difficult, and – let’s be honest – taboo. But it shouldn’t be. We need to have these conversations out in the open because this is something every single teacher and parent of teenagers will deal with. We desperately need more resources and awareness to deal with this challenging life transition.
If you have any brilliant insight, things that haven’t worked, funny stories, whatever, PLEASE share!
Puberty issues range from appropriate touching, menstruation, masturbation, hygiene/grooming, etc. The most critical I face is teaching ‘no hands in pants.’ The hands in pants can usually lead to other ‘exploratory touching’ if you catch my drift. In my experience, you there are two major schools or thoughts: you can teach students to never engage in that behavior or you can teach them to do it in a private place. As far as the private place – you can teach that bathrooms are appropriate for privacy. I prefer the “not in school” approach which doesn’t always work but I attempt.
I use social stories and visuals as my main means of teaching about puberty and sexual changes. In the past when I had a girl student who began menstruating while during the years she was in my classroom, she used a daily social story. The story obviously contained some ‘private’ information so I made the social story on a powerpoint and recorded my voice reading it. That way she could listen to in private each day (using headphones). This was hugely successful and made her much more comfortable with this challenging time.
Some great advice a consultant gave me a few years ago regarding inappropriate touching – was that no reinforcer will ever be as powerful or as reinforcing as the touching. No amount of iPad or gummy candy can replace or override the naturally reinforcing stimulation. Ugh. So true – which makes it even more difficult. So basically you can’t out reinforce this but you teach discrimination skills – ie. you can do it here but not here.
For male students who like to, um, “have fun” in class, I use phases like “hands on desk” or I have students show me their “nice hands” (hands folded). And for some students I send them to the bathroom often in order to avoid this happening in class and that has helped tremendously! (I know it’s kinda terrible to think about, but if they’re going to do it anyway, the bathroom is a much better place to be!) I have avoided discussing this in class but have sent social stories home so that the parents can discuss this with their young adult. Social stories that I have sent home include, shaving, getting your period, masturbation, and others. I use this book – Taking Care of Myself: A Hygiene, Puberty and Personal Curriculum for Young People with Autism – By Mary Wrobel
And this book – Attainment’s Health Growth and Development – https://www.attainmentcompany.com/health-growth-development – This one is written with picture symbols.
Both books have resources that I use in class and stories that I send home.
Also, in class I talk about private and public places and behaviors and the differences between those two.
This is a great Boardmaker share activity on sorting private and public behaviors – https://www.boardmakershare.com/Activity/1715654/Public-or-Private-Sort-Places
Social stories are a great resource and I love Brie’s idea of sending social stories home for parents to use. It is our job as teachers to support parents and provide resources. Since this topic is traditionally a ‘parent lead’ issue – sending home social stories is an excellent intervention.
Download this “no hands in pants” social story for free:
Kids Can Dream has a whole long list of links to a variety of social stories organized by type. Bookmark this page!
Here is a list of some book resources:
Girls Growing Up on the Autism Spectrum: What Parents and Professionals Should Know About the Pre-teen and Teenage Years by Shana Nichols
Sex, Puberty, and All That Stuff: A Guide to Growing Up by Jacqui Bailey is a more detailed book about puberty, dating and sex.
Period.: A Girl’s Guide by JoAnn Loulan (2001 version)
I like this Hand Out by amaze.org as a quick reference guide for parents. It’s nice to have references like this easily accessible to give to parents in times of crisis. Sometimes I feel helpless and even handing a pamphlet or packet makes me feel somewhat prepared.
Autism One has a link to an entire presentation dedicated to puberty. Lots of great points and great resources!
Please share your other ideas and stories! 🙂