My sweet little girl turned 10 and became a tween. Then my tween hit puberty. That was the moment I wished I had a boy!
Initially everything was fine. She was still that sweet, shy girl that cracked a joke on occasion that required a certain level of critical thinking to think it was funny. Art was still her passion and she was, and still is, a self-proclaimed gamer. Autism had always been a challenge for us but when puberty hit, a darker side emerged. She became withdrawn, disrespectful, and possessive, among other things. Puberty hit us like a tsunami that neither one of us prepared for. She became a different child.
Life was so unfair in her eyes. Everything was annoying. Her patience was zilch. She fussed, yelled, and talked back. School got harder, and she hated it and me for it. She refused to complete her assignments or turn in her projects, and she became disobedient and lazy. She just didn’t care. If it wasn’t her way then we had a problem. Now, this could be normal tween behavior but this was my first experience with a hormonal autistic child, and I was clueless.
Puberty also came with physical changes. The beginning of her cycle and the increasing body discomforts, certain body parts filling in and spreading out, and tween acne. The changes made her uncomfortable and irritable. Because of autism and her comprehension delays, we were still working on identifying body parts and now these parts didn’t look the same.
We weren’t mentally prepared for puberty, but it didn’t ask for permission…it just showed up!
One thing autism has taught me is how to creatively approach a situation. I can’t talk to her like I would my niece, for example, when she was 12. I had to step into her world. I took into consideration how her mind works, her triggers, and how to speak in a way that not only will she understand, she will retain the information too. I knew I needed help but what?
I bought a book. Simple. But also the best idea ever! She is a visual learner so I made sure the book had pictures. It talked about all the changes her body would go through. It was like puberty 101. We read it like any other bedtime story – in constant rotation. I noticed it brought her comfort, knowing that she wasn’t alone and that pretty much every single girl in her middle school was going through the same thing.
In addition to the book, I would leave work a little early a few times a month and take her to dinner before I picked up the rest of the crew. Just the two of us. We needed that one-on-one time. It is hard to fit that quality time in when you have other children, but for her I knew it wasn’t an option. I
wanted needed her to feel comfortable talking to me. This was the time she could ask any question or just have casual conversation about whatever was on her mind. And me sitting and listening to her talk about her “gamer life” made her more at ease with other sensitive topics. One day she was able to express to me in detail just how autism affected her mind in her point of view, how it made her feel, and how she thought it affected her decision making. I knew in that moment we had broken new ground. I was proud of her.
We needed to change our family dynamic too. We incorporated more structured family time. Fridays became movie night. We started the love circle. Once every other week we would come together and say one nice thing about each person in the circle and what we admired most. We ended with a group hug. Over time we all began to respect and appreciate each other more. She was able to see that we really did love her and had her best interest in mind. It made her want to do more for those around her. She actually became nicer!
Now at 15, she is more outgoing, social, and an overall happy teenager. High school is okay. You may even hear me say it is “good” sometimes. We still have our days, but the level of growth I have witnessed in her brings me nothing but joy. She makes it a point to be kind and when she isn’t she comes back to apologize. She can tell us when she needs alone time instead of lashing out. We also respect her space. When I pick her up from school we talk about her day, and we make sure we find one good thing to appreciate.
Puberty hasn’t left our home yet but I can see the sunshine peeking though the clouds.