Why one growing up talk is not enough…

Growing up Guide

Davida Hartman is a Senior Educational Psychologist who has been working with children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder for fifteen years. Author of the two new books The Growing Up Guide for Girls and The Growing Up Book for Boys, Davida shares her top ten tips for parents to help guide their children through the confusing changes during the pre-teen and teenage years.

 

 

 

Who remembers how they learned about growing up and all that comes with it; body changes, hair growth, periods, wet dreams or dating? Was it in the school yard, from a less than well-intentioned sibling or being sat down by an embarrassed parent for a speech that made no sense and was never to be spoken again? Although we all no doubt found Hartman_Growing-Up-Book_978-1-84905-575-8_colourjpg-print

the whole thing a bit confusing and sometimes downright worrying, eventually most of us managed to muddle through it all without too much trauma.

You can take it as a given that children on the autism spectrum will find all of this stuff even more difficult to figure out. And let’s face it – as tempting as it may be to follow in our parents footsteps and either ignore it completely or give a once-off talk and never have to think about it again, any parent of a child with autism knows that talking about it once is going to make very little difference to their child being able to change a sanitary pad or finding the motivation to shower every day.

So if a one off ‘talk’ isn’t going to cut it, what will? Here are 10 tips:

  1. Decide what your key messages are going to be and be prepared to repeat them a lot. Don’t be too ambitious, you can always pick new key messages at a later stage.
  2. Get their teacher on board with the same key messages so that there can be even more repetition in a different environment (such as school).
  3. Fake it till you make it! No matter how embarrassed or uncomfortable you might feel, try your best to give the information clearly and calmly using a positive, upbeat tone of voice.
  4. Be concrete and use correct terminology (i.e. not made up names that nobody outside of the family will understand). Also be careful about language being taken literally (e.g. that boys’ voices do not literally ‘break’).
  5. Keep it visual. This might mean reducing language, focussing on pictures and single words, using social stories or visual schedules or perhaps adding speech or thought bubbles to comic type graphics. If your child learns best through PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) teach them that way, likewise if they learn best through social stories. Visual organisers such as relationship circles or timelines can also be really useful.
  6. Use this information to create a ‘growing up’ scrapbook or folder which can be reviewed regularly. This can be added to and adapted as the child gets older and will be meaningful as it can contain pictures and information relevant to them, e.g. pictures of members of their family growing from a baby into an adult.
  7. If you are going to buy resources to help you, be aware of the confusing graphics and language that are sometimes used and make them difficult to be understood by a child with ASD. Be sure to use information that is presented in a clear, visual and factual way that your child will understand.The Growing Up Guide for Girls - Image p.48
  8. Special interests are a great way of making learning interesting, fun and meaningful. For example, if your child loves a particular superhero, create problem-solving scenarios in which the superhero figures out what to do in areas that your child is struggling with (e.g. appropriate touch with strangers).
  9. If you are lucky enough to have them on board, using peers and siblings can be an extremely valuable teaching tool. In the teenage years children tend to pay more attention to what their peers say about a particular topic than their parents or teachers. For example, you could decide to get an older sister or next door neighbour on board to talk to your daughter about the dangers of internet dating. Or a small group of carefully chosen boys could be taught how to sensitively support your son to learn about the importance of good body odour and washing.
  10. Provide real life practice, like role plays and supported experiences in community (e.g. going to the shop to pick a deodorant they like). Children on the spectrum can be very good at learning by rote what they should do in a certain situation (e.g. being able to list internet safety rules or what to say to a girl they like), but can have difficulty applying this knowledge when it matters. Real life practice is vital!

 

 

Davida Hartman is a Senior Educational Psychologist in the Developmental and ASD Psychology Department for Carlow and Kilkenny, Irish Health Service Executive. She is a regular lecturer and trainer on sexuality and relationship education for children with ASD and consults to a number of different groups and agencies. She has been working with children and adolescents with ASD for fifteen years in the capacity of a psychologist and a teacher. Davida received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Trinity College Dublin, her MA in Educational Psychology from University College Dublin, and she is a Registered Psychologist with the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI).

Read more about Davida’s new books The Growing Up Guide for Girls and The Growing Up Guide for Boys.

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Try out some exercises from the Autism Fitness Handbook

The Autism Fitness Handbook is designed to address specific areas of difficulty for children, teens and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Physical fitness – so often overlooked when helping people with autism reach their full potential – provides extended and far-reaching benefits for children of all ages on the spectrum.

Download this extract and follow ‘Coach David’ (Geslak) as he takes you step-by-step through a selection of his most engaging, fun and easy-to-do exercises, such as Frankensteins and Downward Dogs.

To read the full extract CLICK HERE

Frankenstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Autism Fitness Handbook by David Geslak is available in paperback from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Learning about Sexuality and Safety with Tom

 Learning about Sexuality and Safety with Tom

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The idea for storybooks about sexuality and safety came from being the single mother of a boy with severe autism and the worries I had about his future independence. As he matured physically he was going to want and need to do things for himself and there were going to be certain situations when it was inappropriate for me to be involved. It was becoming less appropriate for me to take him into the women’s public lavatories when the disabled toilets were unavailable (unfortunately a pretty common event) as small children and ladies would gawp at him unless he was jumping and arm-flapping. Without a male role model I realised it would be down to me to teach him how to do things such as use a public toilet on his own. I had no idea of the social etiquette for males (why would I?) so this led me to have a lengthy discussion with my brother, who was able to educate me in the ways of male lavatories. It was after this discussion that I started to think about all the difficult subjects that parents of children with autism encounter as they grow up.

What's-happening-to-Tom---Mirror

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of having a child with autism (or a related condition) is their exposure to adult sexuality and how this can make them vulnerable to sexual abuse. Writing the book Sexuality and Severe Autism helped me realise that equipping our children with knowledge and skills makes them more robust and less likely to become victims. Unlike typically developing children, those with autism do not learn from their peers by ‘osmosis’ and may not ask appropriate questions – they need to be taught explicitly how to be safe and physically appropriate. With this in mind I enlisted the skills of illustrator Jonathon Powell and we set about producing a series of storybooks to give the parents of autistic children a means of educating their offspring about puberty, sexuality and social etiquette.

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The first three storybooks are for boys and young men and feature the character, Tom. They are written in explicit language using ‘proper’ terms for sexual parts of the body and are illustrated with anatomically correct pictures, so that our children and young people can identify what kind of contact is appropriate and report accurately if sexual abuse occurs. The idea is that these books are read alongside generic reading material, rather than being a sex education lesson.

 

  • Things Tom Likes examines masturbation and sexuality and helps boys and young men understand what behaviours are public and private.
  • What’s Happening to Tom? is about puberty and enables readers to learn about developmental changes that they find challenging.
  • Tom Needs To Go refers back to that conversation I had with my brother about what is appropriate behaviour in public toilets and how our young men can be safe in such a space.

 

My hope is that these books will help ease the worries that parents and carers of young boys on the spectrum face as they grow up and will give them the opportunity to communicate about these difficult subjects.

 

Early in 2015 I will be able to introduce you to Ellie who will feature in similar books aimed at girls and young women.

 

Kate E. Reynolds is the author of What is Happening to Tom? Tom Needs To Go, Things Tom Likes and Sexuality and Severe Autism all of which are available through Jessica Kingsley Publishers.