Autism and Puberty: Our Own Perfect Storm

Puberty has started to rear its head in our home again. We’ve already gotten a taste of it with our 14-year-old son, but now we have a 12-year-old girl in the throes of it; a 12-year-old girl who also happens to have autism.

We are only about six months in, and I have already come to the conclusion that autism and puberty go together like oil and water.

It’s hard enough for a typical kid to understand all the changes going on within them. Life becomes an emotional whirlwind as they experience heightened emotions and rapid mood swings.

Our son does all the things one would expect; lots of eye rolling, flippant remarks, craving privacy like never before, and taking as many showers a day as he can get away with.

With Lilly, we also get the eye-rolls and the attitude, but there has also been a frightening increase in explosive behaviors. The only accurate way I’ve found to describe it is “PMS on crack.”

I’ve lost count of the number of days I’ve had to pick her up from school early this year because of her outbursts.

She has been having severe meltdowns routinely for most of her life. She has always had a revolving door of triggers, but now things that never bothered her before are setting her off, and it’s hard to contain an 80-pound preteen when she’s in a rage.

Typically, she will lash out at whoever is nearest. For some unknown reason, since she was a toddler, she has never gone for me- until recently.

I think she was more shocked than I was the first time her flailing hand made contact with my bare arm, leaving an angry red mark.

Despite this, she has still attempted to kick, hit, and bite me, becoming even more pissed off if I manage to evade her.

I remember how much my mom got on my nerves when I was this age, and while I was able to express myself in the form of expletives muttered under my breath and abrasive responses to the most innocent of questions, Lilly doesn’t have that ability; she’s only partially verbal at this point, so her annoyance and frustration come in the form of physical aggression.

It is a stark difference from my experience at twelve years old and what we are going through with Lilly.

Back in the days before “period parties” were a thing, we learned about our changing bodies by watching a film in health class; giggling behind our Trapper Keepers at the mention of various parts of the female anatomy.

Preparation for your first period was a rite of passage that, in my day, involved a “starter kit” that arrived in the mail and waiting anxiously to see which of your friends would be the first to get it.

Preparation for Lilly isn’t even an option at this point.

As much as we want to prepare her for when she starts her period, we can’t. She doesn’t do well with the unknown, and since we obviously can’t tell her exactly when, where and how her period will start, it would only increase her anxiety.

She wrote a sentence a couple of weeks ago, totally unprompted, that said, “I flirt with a boy.”

It was bittersweet because it reminded me that underneath all the medical and behavioral issues, she is a typical preteen girl with typical preteen girl feelings.

At the same time, it reminded me how vulnerable she is and how easily she could be taken advantage of.

She has no sense of stranger danger, despite lots of discussions at school and at home. Her body is starting to change, and modesty is a concept she hasn’t quite grasped yet.

On many occasions when she’s upset, her clothes will come flying off no matter where she is. Even when she’s not upset, if she is somewhere where she feels comfortable, there is guaranteed to be a pile of clothes on the floor sooner or later if we don’t catch her in time.

It scares me that one day she could easily be persuaded to do inappropriate things and not know the difference, and we might never know about it.

Autism is an unpredictable weather pattern. When you throw puberty into the mix it can become a perfect storm.

It’s already been one Hell of a ride, and it’s just the beginning. But we will ride the storm out, however long it takes. Because there is always light on the other side, and she is worth the wait.

Written by, Jennifer Arnold

Jennifer Arnold lives in Northern California with her husband and four children. She is a full time student, a freelance writer, and a passionate advocate for kids with special needs. You can visit her at:  jenarnoldwrites.com

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Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook and subscribe to our newsletter.

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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