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Discussing Puberty With Your Autistic Child

Father talking with son

At a Glance

Emphasizing on starting conversations about puberty early to help Autistic children understand and prepare for the changes.

Exploring the variability of puberty education in schools and the necessity for parents to supplement or initiate these discussions.

Highlighting the need for inclusive sex education that respects autistic children's experiences, interests, and rights to understanding their bodies and relationships.

Welcome to our blog series on autism and puberty, where we will be discussing the ways that a strong support network including parents and educators can support autistic children going through a significant period of transition. 

While there are a limited number of studies covering whether autistic pubertal development differs in any significant way from that of allistic adolescents, the bottom line is that autistic people will experience puberty in adolescence around the same time as other students and should have the opportunity to learn about and prepare for the changes that come with it. 

In part 1 of this series we are focusing on parents and caregivers, who will in many cases have the greatest latitude to broach this topic with the autistic child they are supporting. So let’s dive right in!

Why is it important?

Puberty presents a host of challenges to the vast majority of adolescents, and autistic adolescents are no exception. In addition to common challenges associated with puberty, autistic students can face a whole added layer of challenges from navigating the world with their individual differences to being infantilized by people in a position to educate them and subsequently getting contradictory information from a range of unreliable sources. 

While autistic adolescents may be in different places in terms of what particular information might be most relevant to them, they can all benefit from a reliable source of information that they can feel comfortable going to when they are uncertain or need guidance on a particular topic. 

Even if you are not immediately certain about what is most relevant to the autistic person you are supporting, opening up that dialogue and establishing a safe space to seek out information can make a huge difference!

Can I rely on their school to help?

Unfortunately the answer to this question is going to vary from school to school. While some schools may plan to offer individualized education related to puberty and adolescent development, others might offer an incredibly limited curriculum or even overlook this topic for special education students. 

If you are uncertain about what your school offers, it can be helpful to speak with your child’s teacher to get a sense of what they are planning and consider how you might want to supplement that education based on the answer you get. 

One unfortunate reality for teachers is that their hands may be tied in terms of what they are able to teach, so it may fall on you to determine what additional topics or information is important to share and even ways of individualizing that information so it fits with your child’s needs.

When should I start?

The Organization for Autism Research advocates starting early, noting that puberty is both inherently a big change in any individual’s life and that it often comes with a raft of evolving social norms that may require considerable adjustment depending on how those norms might impact your child. 

One lower stakes but still incredibly relevant example that OAR provides is that sometimes people are less receptive to frequent hugs from teenagers and adults even when they might tolerate or appreciate the same behavior from a child. While at AGU we often say that autistic people should not have to be forced into meeting every social norm, those that have to do with boundaries and consent are crucial to learn and practice for the sake of respecting the bodily autonomy of others and avoiding ending up in a potentially harmful situation.

One other benefit of starting early is having the opportunity to pace yourself in the volume and type of information that you share as well as developing an understanding of both your child’s needs and the most helpful tools for sharing information. 

For example, when speaking to a very young child it might not make much sense to talk about bodily changes yet but there can still be an opportunity to talk about respecting boundaries.

What about sex education?

Some parents who understand the necessity of explaining the changes that come with puberty may feel less comfortable with the idea of sex education for their autistic child, and research on the lack of adequate sex ed resources for autistic students suggests they are not alone. 

For many educators and parents, there can be an assumption that autistic adolescents are not really interested in or ready for that information. While it may be true that a comprehensive sex education curriculum might not be the right fit for every autistic person, the blanket attitude that autistic people are not interested in relationships or don’t need to learn about sex can be incredibly harmful. 

Studies commonly show that many autistic people are interested in sex and relationships . This 2019 NIH study further suggests that “young adults reported more typical privacy and sexual behavior, and higher sexual victimization than their parents reported on their behalf.”

The purpose of pointing out these studies is not to say that every autistic person needs an extensive sex education curriculum, but rather that parents should be careful about relying on their personal observations to try to determine what their child needs in lieu of opening up a real dialogue in which they can reach a shared understanding of what is important. 

And at bare minimum, even if a parent knows for a fact and has confirmed with their child that they are not interested in pursuing relationships, there is still important ground to cover in making sure they feel empowered to assert their own boundaries and recognize when someone is violating those boundaries. 

As with questions about change and bodily development, there is so much contradictory information out there and it can be so crucial to have a reliable anchor they can turn to when they aren’t sure or are worried.

Where can I start?

With everything we have just shared, finding an appropriate starting point can be a daunting process. After all, if it’s true that everyone has different needs and starting points then how can we know exactly what that point is for the person we are supporting? 

The good news is - as we have also alluded to in this post - one of the most important steps you can take is establishing an open line of communication where the person you are supporting can feel comfortable asking questions, expressing needs, and clarifying points of confusion or contradictory information. That means you do not necessarily need to find an optimal, specific starting point but can instead work together with your child to find an optimal place to begin.

With that said, some parents may understandably not be sure about all the components that could potentially go into puberty or sex education and want more resources that cover the nuts and bolts, ideally with some of those nuts and bolts specifically designed for autistic students. 

If you feel like you need more educational resources to help you in this process then we will be covering some of what is out there later in this series after some posts focusing on teachers and professionals.


In the meantime if there are any other topics you’d like to see us cover then we’d love to hear from you! Just drop us a line at and we will be back next week with part 2 focused on teachers!

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