Alice and Puberty

Puberty is hard time for almost any child to go through. Your body changes. Your voice changes. Even your personality may change.

It can be a real challenge for parents to watch their once sweet daughters and sons turn from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. That was definitely the case with Alice. Her puberty was changing her in both the classroom and at home.

Alice was a child who had severe autism. She was amazing in many ways. The girl had learned to communicate once she had discovered how to read. That magic moment when she discovered letters matched pictures was one her teachers and family had never forgotten. Alice had been progressing steadily in the classroom.

At times, the girl could be a handful but behavior modification techniques usually worked pretty well with the child.

Then, Alice entered into puberty. Her mother noticed during the summer that Alice had started to spot blood. Her body was starting to become more of a woman than the little girl we knew.

The hard part was Alice did not understand what was happening. Social stories were used to try and help the girl understand.

Unfortunately, her comprehension was far below her ability to understand what was taking place in her body. Even her teachers and family were unsure of what the girl was totaling going through. We knew she was very uncomfortable.

For many children with severe ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), puberty impacts them far more than what occurs in most young children. Alice was certainly one of those children.

One day, Alice was jumping on a ball to help calm herself. She had learned to do that over the years when her senses were bothering her. Then, the girl suddenly leaped on to one of the paraprofessionals. She grabbed Billie and began to cry out as if in pain. She wanted Billie to squeeze her face as if it were crawling with insects. The staff quickly got Alice into a body sox. This stretchy material was pulled tight around the girl to help her calm down.

Then several bean bags were placed under the child to help give her some soothing material so she could begin to relax. It took a while but slowly the girl started to calm down. The mother was called and she decided to give the girl some Tylenol and later took Alice to the doctor.

As the weeks went by, almost like clockwork, Alice began to request for more sensory objects to help calm herself. The girl had learned how to use some of the equipment in the room that relaxed her senses when they became heightened. She even had learned to go inside a wooden pressure roller that was modeled after one that Dr. Temple Grandin had created. Like Alice, Dr. Grandin would have instances when her senses would be over loaded and cause her tremendous discomfort.

The teacher could not imagine totally what Alice was experiencing. She only knew that her body was very uncomfortable. The child knew to ask for help by grabbing those people around her when the senses were extreme. Now, with puberty in the mix, Alice became overwhelmed more frequently. With the help of sensory equipment and with a doctor’s assistance, Alice was learning how to cope with a body undergoing lots of change. It wasn’t easy but the teacher, her staff and Alice’s family were learning how to help the child move through a very challenging time in her life.

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher, can be contacted at