Dealing with our puberty years as each of us can
probably well remember or are currently experiencing with our own
children is can be a very emotional experience. But it doesn't have
to be a nightmare. It is also very possible to handle puberty and
the Teen years and help our children have a positive outlook to life
There are many changes happening to our child.
Physical changes of growing taller and other body changes, pimples
emotional changes of feeling embarrassed, anxious, curious, are all
adolescents understand around the world. And every single one of
those young people will tell you NO ONE could possibly be going
through exactly what I am, but it does help to know that someone can
relate. This is the same for each adolescent regardless of their
race, ability, ethnicity or gender.
It is my hope that after raising two children
with special needs (both different) I can offer you some hope in
telling you that it is possible to get through it. I can not promise
Grey hairs won't come from it but I can promise also you will have a
big heart full of pride in the end.
Some tips for Parents
1. Develop a communication relationship with your
child early. If your child knows they can come to you for anything
it will make it easier for them to listen and to speak to you about
tough things. Easier said than done but from my own experience...
After my child was done blowing up at me and had time to cool down 6
times out of 10 later they would come back and talk to me about it
with a much more open mind.
2. When it's time to have the "birds and the
bees" talk . One thing I found much easier when it came time to
ensure they understand what they were going through was we helped
all our children from the time they were young understand about
their bodies, their right to privacy and that really seemed to help
them open up when we talked to them about the changes going on with
their bodies. Some additional tips I've found researching this are:
If your just starting to have conversations
around sexuality with your child, regardless of their age, it
can be helpful to start out by letting them know what you want
to talk about and then asking them what they've heard. This is
true and does seem effective because for example. "your body is
going through lots of changes right now. It's called puberty. I
want to talk about you getting your period. What have you heard
about girls getting their period?" But please note. It's awkward
enough for a lot of people to even have this conversation in the
first place it's even tougher for your child to be listening to
you talk about this to them. Don't try to be "cool" and do not
try to be recited just be you.. You talk to your children about
bad dreams and not passing gas.. You can do this too.
If you discuss the correct terms for our body
parts from the time they are young it will be much easier to
discuss with your adolescent later. And remember if you didn't
have a chance to do this while they were young be ready they may
laugh. Children aren't trying to be rude. It may be they are
nervous and embarrassed because they are changing and are not
quite sure how to feel about talking about out loud.
If your not sure were to start. You can obtain
information from Planned
Parenthood, your local doctors office and some terrific sites
online. There are many sites that deal directly with Puberty and
Disabilities. Your adolescent is going to be going through some
amazing changes in their lives. We as parents can help them embrace
their youth and be proud of what's happening.
Tips for Professionals
My first tip is don't look at the disabilities.
Look at the person. In my daughters case she understood every single
thing everyone ever said to them. Her intellect is in tact and
because she was defaulted by the lack of gauging that intellect many
presumed she wouldn't understand. She was always embarrassed when
she got changed around men in school or just with a divider
separating her and all her peers.
I was pleasantly Ecstatic that all people
realized she was a healthy teen that was the ultimate "boy watcher"
She would darn near break her neck to watch a cute boy.. She got
tagged "boy watcher" by one of her school aids. Please don't
presume hand each and every child the power and right to know what's
going on with them.
- Professionals (educators, teachers, direct care staff,
etc.) should establish a group agreement or a set of
ground rules before addressing topics of sexuality.
It is important to set a positive tone and create an
atmosphere where people feel comfortable and able to ask
questions. Common ground rules include:
- One person talks at a time
- All questions are welcome
- Personal questions are off limits
- Different opinions are okay
- It’s beneficial to give examples of each ground rule that is
set and to talk about how people feel when a ground rule isn’t
followed (i.e., the social and emotional implications). For
instance, an example might be given about "Susie" asking a
question and someone laughs and says, "Everybody knows that!"
Discussion can revolve around how that would make Susie feel and
how that might make others feel about asking questions.
- Establishing ground rules is helpful even if you are meeting
with a group one time, or simply having a 1:1 conversation with
someone. It is often helpful to write the ground rules down and
have them posted so that the group/person can see them.
- Acknowledge ahead of time that it’s okay to feel embarrassed
and that they may hear words they’ve never used or heard before.
It should be recognized that some laughter is acceptable due to
nervousness or comfort level. In a group setting, it will be
necessary for the adult to determine if laughter is a response
to feeling uncomfortable or directed towards others. In the case
of the latter, it will be important to refer back to the ground
- When using correct terms for body parts or their function,
it is often helpful to ask the person/group what words they have
heard or used in place of the correct word. This will give you a
sense of what they know and the words they typically use.
Acknowledge that people may use lots of different words to
describe the same body part or their function, but the group is
going to practice and try to remember to use correct
names/terms, etc. It can also be a time to talk about why some
words are not ‘okay’ (i.e., slang words that are offensive to
Life Horizons I by Winifred
Kemptom, M.S.W., Instructional design by James Stanfield, Ed.D.
Life Horizons I is a series of slides with a teacher’s guide and
accompanying scripts to provide information about the
physiological and psychological aspects of sexuality and
This resource is made up of five programs: "Parts of the Body,"
"Sexual Life Cycle," "Human Reproduction," "Birth Control," and
"Sexually Transmitted Diseases."
Teaching Persons with Mental Retardation about Sexuality &
Relationships by June Kogut & Susan Vilardo
A guide to use in helping you how to teach sexuality education
to persons with mental retardation. This guide consists of nine
different sections such as reproduction, relationships, and
manners & grooming
Teens and disabilities
mentioned before I raised 2 teens with special needs. 1 with
Cerebral Palsy and one with ADHD. I often wondered how much
should I ignore their disability and raise them as I would my
other children and when did I need to take into account their
disability. How much was enough. Where was my balance?
do we do more, when do we back off? How do we find balance in
our family and our lives? When we keep these things in mind and
take a positive approach I believe we find our balance to a
successful time with our children with disabilities during their
way I see it a teen with a disability is still a teen. Their
teen years will still be complex. They will go through physical
and emotional changes. They will seek independence. This is true
for children with disabilities. One of my daughters favorite
activities was going to the mall with her friends. They would
come over and take her out in her wheelchair to the mall. This
may not be possible for each teen to do but if you have teens in
your neighborhood or church group sit down and talk to them
about ways your child could possibly interact with them. Check
with your school to see about setting up a peer to peer program.
This is where your child is main streamed into a regular class
room setting with their peers assisting them to class or in
class. If it is necessary for your child to have an aid find out
if the aid could be in the background there to help your child
if needed allowing them to be an active part of their world
the things that several of my daughters teachers did for her was
they programmed a special computer program to allow her to know
what was going to happen next in her day. She also went out to
"recess" or lunch with her peers. The students would work on
class projects with her as well. Because she loved music so much
we included her in choir in middle school. Because we gave her
what she wouldn't have had as a teen with a disability in a self
contained classroom, I believe we gave her a positive outlook
and a chance to be one of the "kids"
find your child has those "teen traits" count it as normal
growth and deal with them as you would normally with any other
child. However, disability carries added physical and emotional
hurdles involving the ability to participate, acceptance by
peers and self image. They may become stressed, depressed,
frustrated or angry with their circumstances. They may resent
being ignored one minute and then angry the next when someone
tries to help them the next. One difficulty with my son was he
struggled with praise during his teen years. If I told him thank
you for doing a good job he would just about blow his top. If I
forgot to praise him however, I very often got a similar
It’s easy to be overprotective—after all, you’re a
parent. Avoid being too controlling, talk with your teen
about his experiences and feelings and how much help is to
much as you work together to address problems. We do need to
set guidelines and boundaries with our teens. If we set
those out from the start that helps them understand just how
far you will allow them to take things but allowing them a
little room to work through issues they may have will create
a positive balance between the two. Sticking to your word is
another important thing. It's ok for things to change but
talking them through with your teen will help them adapt to
You may be angry or even feel guilty about your child’s
disability. I didn't go through the why me why my child
stage until my daughters teen age years when I sat on the
couch watching her looking out the window at her friends
playing outside talking about the middle school dance. These
feelings are normal, but they will not help you or your
child work through a challenging and crucial time of life.
If you can’t set those feelings aside, talk with someone who
can help you—a friend, relative, or counselor.
Aim for as much of a typical teen life as your child’s
disability will permit. You may have to overcome qualms
about what your teen can do or should try. Give your
approval to social activities and be ready to tackle dating
If you help your teen with a disability to have a
positive outlook, to be open and confident. Allow your teen
to build on their strengths building on their interests and
taking an active part in their activities you will help her
excel. Do not limit them to just special needs classes but
allow them to be a part of both regular ed and special ed
you give them the tools they need to go forth into a
You will need to be ready to step in on your child's
behalf when it is necessary to advocate for them but first
and foremost promote self advocacy. Teach them they do have
a right to stand up for their rights and they do have a
voice in what happens to them. Let them know they can
participate in their IEP's and deciding what they want to
have happen in their lives. Teach them when they are not
comfortable with something they do have a right to say so.
If they are not able to speak for them selves find a way
that they can communicate to others they are not happy with
what's going on or they approve.
The biggest thing to remember disability or not... What
is NORMAL for them is Normal. Not what society deems as
normal. Help your child learn to accept themselves in their
own skin and it's ok to be different
As with all teens, be attuned to the mental health of a
teen with a disability. Talking with a caring relative or
with a faith or youth group leader can help a teen work
through issues and feelings stemming from a disability.
However, be prepared to enlist professional help.
Keep in mind the needs of the brothers and sisters of a
teen with a disability—they can feel ignored, jealous, or
stressed. Involve them in helping and caring for a teen with
a disability, but try not to overdo it. Limit siblings’
tasks and give them a break. Provide one-on-one time with
Please remember that a "disability means one or more
permanent, major, life altering conditions. Which may be
progressive or sudden and which may result from disease or
injury. Disabilities include such a wide range of conditions
and severity that each case and situation must be handled
individually. A lot of these tips may or may not be
applicable to the most severely disabled teens but hopefully
each will help parents deal with the challenge of a child's
disability along with rapid changes that affect all
I hope that through this article you
will find something that can be of use to you and your teen.