Puberty and growing up

As puberty approaches you need to prepare yourselves and your son or daughter for a more adult status by allowing them to be as independent as possible. Disabled children, like every other child, need to learn about:

  • How their body works and grows.
  • What changes to expect at puberty.
  • The name and function of the sex organs.
  • Relationships and responsibility.
  • How society expects them to behave in public.
  • Keeping safe from exploitation and abuse.
  • How to prevent unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Despite a willingness to talk about sex and relationships, many parents are unsure how to go about it. They worry and think they may not know enough and lack the confidence to talk and listen confidently without embarrassment.

When and how to talk with your child

Children are more likely to want to talk to you about puberty if they are used to talking openly to you, not just about their condition in general, but other things like money, school work, friends, and so on. Encourage your children to talk to you about anything that worries them; showing an interest in what your child does and says will boost their self esteem.

  • Start talking to your child early so that problems are less likely to arise - certainly before puberty.
  • Talk openly and casually - while you're doing something else, such as washing up or driving the car - as this gives the message that it is not something secretive or to be afraid of.
  • Be open about your own beliefs and attitudes, but be prepared to discuss them and listen to your child's point of view.
  • Read books, leaflets and watch videos or take advantage for example of a situation that might arise on the television and which might help trigger a conversation. 

Talking about puberty

Disabled children grow up too and they go through the same process as any other child. As much as possible all children and young people need to be prepared for the changes to their body before they take place.

  • Be open and honest about the issues that arise for your child. For girls, these issues include periods, and for boys they include wet dreams. Questions they might ask include "what changes will my body go through at puberty?" and "will I be able to have sexual relationships?"
  • If you don't know the answers, it might help to contact the support group for your child's condition. The NHS choices page on stages of puberty is useful.
  • As your child becomes a teenager, it might be helpful for him or her to see a genetic counsellor, who can talk about genes and inheritance.
  • Your child might start to enjoy exploring their body through masturbation. Try to give them the privacy to do this; if they are prevented by things such as continence wear or night splints - and if it is safe to do so - consider allowing them some 'private time' without them.

Personal care

Intimate personal care is a necessary part of some disabled people's lives. As a child grows up and goes through puberty, they may find personal care to be more embarrassing and feel more awkward and shy.

It is important that parents and care workers are respectful when delivering intimate personal care to their son or daughter. This means:

  • Knocking before entering a bedroom or bathroom.
  • Asking permission on each occasion before providing intimate care - for example, "Is it OK if I help you take off your pyjamas now?"
  • Discussing personal care plans and any changes to these with the child or young person as far as possible.
  • Reassessing whether intimate personal care is still necessary and whether it could or should be provided in a different way. Are there aids and equipment which could enable the young person to manage alone?
  • Reassessing how many different people need to be involved in a young person's personal care and keeping this to a minimum.
  • Clear communication and explanation of why a procedure is necessary.

Related information