Warning, this post contains adult content.
No matter how beautiful, amazing, or smart a child is, they will grow up. In what seems like the blink of an eye, a small child grows and ages until they become teenagers (screaming in your head “oh, no, not teenagers”).
Suddenly, your wish that your child had experiences like a child without a disability will come true. They will become a hormonal, moody, grumpy, irritable mess. Also, you child will respond physically in more adult, hormone driven ways. They will experience all the discomfort of growing older. It is now that they need your assistance the most.
Most of us, when our body started to change, wanted to hide as our body responded to the opposite sex outside our control. I remember panicking that everyone knew I was having my period and young boys that I knew struggled to hide any physical reaction becoming masters of the well placed book, backpack, or hat. Not all children want to hide. For some children, they want help and will seek to understand what is happening to their body. We need to teach them to ask us questions in private. We need to teach them not to share or show anyone else while at the same time, helping them understand the new hair, smells, and physical reactions are normal. Despite your discomfort, your child will need factual information and guidance. They need to know, what to do, when to do it, and where. Teach your child specifically about new routines such as: how to adapt daily hygiene, including the addition of deodorant, pimple cream or skin treatment, or the use of feminine products. Let them know that they can explore the new shape and curves of their body, which is normal, but that it is a bathroom or bedroom activity when you are home, not at school, the mall, or with friends. Teach them that they can like boys or girls, but how to greet or talk to those you find attractive appropriately.
Yikes! Finding someone attractive means they may want to date!!!
Yes, they may want to date and that is a fantastic, scary, and typical reaction to finding someone attractive. Dating is normal, explaining and preparing for the date is the difference for an individual with a cognitive delay. I realize that some people would rather an individual with a cognitive delay or developmental delay never date, but I do not believe that is a fair thing to wish. As scary and difficult as dating was, it is also empowering, exciting, and the path to finding your best friend, mate, and partner. I want each child I know to grow up, date, fall in love, and find someone they love and care for who loves and cares for them.
Yes, that includes kissing, and hopefully, when in love and older, sex. Prepare your child to love themselves so they can love another. Teach your child that kissing is okay with someone you know and who respects you. Teach your child about sex, and support and love them while they look for that special love that can lead to a healthy, typical, sexual relationship.
Puberty, hormones, kissing, love and sex are a natural and normal part of life. We should celebrate when the ”typical” life we have hoped for becomes a reality for those we love, whether or not they have a disability. While the conversation may be taboo, growing up isn’t.