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Autism and Puberty - Working with Families

Teaching talking with student and their family member

At a Glance

Addressing common misconceptions about autistic adolescents and relationships.

Highlighting the essential topics all autistic adolescents should learn about puberty and boundaries.

Emphasizing the importance of open communication and individualized support for navigating puberty.

Welcome back to our blog series on autism and puberty, where in part 1 we talked about discussing puberty with an autistic child from a parent or caregiver standpoint and in part 2 we talked about how teachers can navigate rules, needs, and expectations around puberty and sex education in a school context. 

In part 3 we are going to speak more broadly about the process of working with families, a role that can be played by teachers or by a range of other professionals working in a support role. 

One reality of working with families is that people will come from a wide variety of backgrounds and knowledge levels when it comes to autism. Some might be well read and informed on all the literature that is out there, others might be taken in by misinformation, and others still might simply not have the time to learn everything and fall into the trap of some common societal misconceptions about autism. 

This post is all about meeting families where they are and making sure you are on the same page about the most important thing: centering the needs of the autistic person in question and ensuring they are able to learn about the topics most relevant to their lives and goals.

Working Through Some Common Misconceptions

One important component of working with families and developing an education strategy is keeping an eye out for some common misconceptions about autistic people when it comes to puberty, sex, and relationships.

Misconception #1: Parents know whether or not their child is interested in dating and relationships.

Reality #1: While it obviously is not impossible to find out whether their child wants to learn about these topics, many parents underestimate their autistic childrens’ interest levels.

Misconception #2: My school will teach my autistic child what they need to know about this topic.

Reality #2: While some schools may offer individualized puberty and sex education curricula, one should not assume that any given school will reliably manage this responsibility! Although autistic people “express similar levels of interest in romantic relationships,” as their allistic peers, at best there are no clear educational requirements related to sex ed for autistic students and at worst it might be ignored entirely.

Misconception #3: Autistic people who express a clear lack of interest in sex, dating, and relationships do not need puberty or sex education.

Reality #3: While it is true that some topics may be reasonable to skip if the person in question has no interest in and will not derive any benefit from learning about it, there are some basic foundational topics that any student should learn, primarily related to how their bodies might change and personal boundaries.

The Bare Minimum

Picking up where myth #3 left off, it is crucial to remember that puberty is a hugely significant transitional period where not only do our bodies change, but the way we are perceived by the rest of the world and the way our actions and words might be interpreted. 

It is a stressful time for managing not only physical changes, but changes to social dynamics and the ways we are treated by the people around us. 

In line with that thinking, regardless of how much interest any individual shows in the full breadth of potential puberty and sex education topics, it is crucial to discuss the types of physical changes a person might anticipate over the course of puberty, setting boundaries for themselves, and respecting the boundaries of others.

While each of these concepts are important to teach discreetly, it is also important to be considerate of the ways they can intersect. While we do not necessarily appreciate the language of this study, it does highlight a common challenge where behavior that was previously considered either harmless or not a big deal coming from a small child can come to be perceived as much more threatening or violating over time. 

Explaining the way people’s boundaries can get more rigid over time can be crucial both for ensuring that individuals don’t engage in boundary-crossing behavior and for understanding that the shift taking place is not their fault but rather a product of growing up. 

While the specifics of each of these three subject areas may shift depending on the needs of the person in question, it is important to broach the basics of all of these topics and to offer support and safe spaces to practice for individuals who might need more time to work through all the implications of these changes.

Centering Autistic People’s Wants and Needs By Opening Up Communication

Once we get past the bare minimum topics, there is suddenly a whole world of potential areas of discussion, and the primary determining factor on what will be most important to share should be what the autistic person finds relevant to their own lives and interests. 

There’s just a couple challenges that come with that sentiment: people don’t always know exactly what they want all the time, and kids don’t always feel comfortable opening up to their parents, especially about sensitive topics like this one. In that sense, just sitting down with a child and telling them to ask whatever questions they have then calling it a day might not be the optimal strategy for ensuring they get all the information that is important to them.

This is a space where professionals can help both establish what we can get out of communication and even create a system by which the child in question may feel more comfortable asking the questions that are most important to them. 

What system of inquiry might be the best fit for the person in question? Would it help to write down questions? Would it be easier to confide in a professional than in a family member? Would it help to have a list of common topics and questions to reference and see what might be relevant? 

The crucial thing is not necessarily to get everything done at once, but create a space where the child in question feels like they have a safe outlet to ask questions relevant to their own interests and goals without feeling judged.

Working Together, Processing, and Practical Implications

All of these steps together make for an excellent foundation, but sharing information is only the beginning when it comes to supporting a child through such a significant transitional period

As we alluded to above and as many linked sources have pointed out, puberty is not simply a matter of a person’s body changing but in the way they are seen and the social expectations that can be placed upon them. 

While knowing those changes may be coming is certainly valuable, it is not the same as actually experiencing them and it is in those times when an autistic child may need the most support. Coordinating with both family and the autistic person in question to work on areas that may feel like a source of distress can be a major help in managing the myriad of potential changes that can happen and build healthy coping mechanisms for major sources of stress. 

At bare minimum, working together to create a variety of safe outlets for venting and discussing problems - even in cases where solutions might not be readily available - can make a huge difference. Working with the child in question to determine who they feel comfortable talking to about what can be a great starting point.


The last topic we want to cover is what puberty and sex education materials are out there that are focused on the perspective of either autistic people or caregivers seeking to educate autistic adolescents or adults. We think that section is deserving of its own post so we will be covering it in part 4 of this series coming out next week. 


In the meantime if you have any experiences you’d like to share or topics you wish we’d cover then we would love to hear from you! Just drop us a line at and we will be back next week to wrap up this series with part 4.

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Previous article Puberty Resources
Next article Questions to Ask Discussing Puberty with Autistic Students

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