Honestly, our kids should just get a pass on the whole puberty thing.
– a fellow autism mom
I want to write about the intersection of autism and puberty.
I want to tell you that I’m struggling. With how to talk to Brooke about all of it – not just about what is happening to her body, but why. And more importantly, how it’s going to feel for her, from the inside out.
(I don’t know how it will feel for her. I don’t know if she will experience the process differently than I did, or if it will be largely the same. My guess is that it will be different. Most things are.)
I will make the most educated guesses I can as I guide her. I will take all of the information that I’ve gathered over all of these years of watching, studying, analyzing. I will extrapolate out to the very last degree to which I am able.
I will find ways to deliver the information that she needs. I’ve tried talking. I’ve tried books. Neither was the answer. So I will offer up characters she knows, in the format of stories with which she is familiar.
Brooke loves to read her old potty training books. The formula in those books makes sense to her. It’s familiar, comfortable, accessible. So I am working on writing a story for her in which Dora the Explorer explains puberty in the same format that she describes the transition from diapers to the potty.
I thought it would be easier than it is. But as I write, I find myself stumbling across land mines – phrasing that is more likely to produce anxiety than ease, words that are far more conceptual than concrete. So I’m studying books like this one and this one, searching for clues, guidance, ways to avoid missteps. Brooke deserves nothing less than everything I can do.
I know that many of you reading this are parents of kids who face different challenges, and many of those kids are younger than mine. I know that many of you look to our story to see to what to expect as you move further down the road. Some of you have asked me to talk here about puberty, to stand by my banner of No Secrets, No Shame and to share the details of the process. To offer a guide of sorts.
As much as I want to help, I can’t.
Some time ago, Brooke’s older sister, Katie and I came to an agreement about what I would write about her here. If I don’t have the chance to ask her permission first, I am to trust my gut about what would embarrass her and what wouldn’t and, obviously, not write anything that I don’t think she would want me to share. My gut answer comes from one question … “If it were me, and I were twelve, would I want my mom telling this story to everyone I know?” The answer is, most often, no.
Brooke’s autism does not negate her right to me asking the exact same question of myself every time I sit down to write about her. My desire to talk about my challenges, my fears, my own insecurities about the process, cannot ever trump her right to privacy. Helping to guide others cannot come at the cost of her dignity.
If she chooses someday to talk about any or all of it, so be it, but she’s not in a position to make an informed decision yet. So it’s up to me to ask the question, “If it were me, and I were ten, would I want my mom telling this story to everyone I know?”
The answer, my friends, is no.