Self-Care Chronicles: Menstruation for Girls with Sensory Issues

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Self-Care Chronicles: Menstruation for Girls with Sensory Issues

In this article: Begin to realise the world of menstruating with sensory issues and how to help your loved one cope with the body’s monthly routine. We will discuss tips for easing symptoms as well as promoting good personal hygiene for young girls with sensory issues learning about the reality of her monthly period. 

For any woman, the effect of starting her period is intense. Many express moodiness, overall discomfort, sore muscles, cramping, bloating, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, depression, and even trouble concentrating—and it goes without saying that symptoms vary from woman to woman. If we don’t properly warn our girls of what’s to come, they may fear for the worst when they see the first sign of red blood in their underwear. The truth is that young girls with ASD or other sensory processing issues are no exception to the laws of nature. So how can we prepare girls with sensory issues for menstruation?

The answer probably lies within some of the same methods you may already be using! We will explore some strategies that have been successful for other families and discuss products that might make life a little easier. It is always trying to bring up these touchy subjects with any child, but for a child with sensory issues the preparation is critical as they transition into their adult bodies.

The Age of Menstruation and When to Talk

Most girls will have their first period sometime between 11 and 14, but if it occurs along the span of 9-16 that is still considered normal. Early menstruation has been reported! This is due to the percentage of body weight and development. We must start introducing the idea of having a menstrual period early because we simply cannot know when it will happen.

As parents and caregivers it can be hard to bring this up as we watch our child who is still at the age of tea parties and princesses. But imagine the fear and worry of that first sight of blood with no context: it could be horrifying! They will most surely think the worst, and not all will have the words to express what is wrong or perhaps will be too embarrassed. God tells us to train them up in the way they should go, so let’s give them the best start by introducing feminine hygiene products early as well as who to talk to if they are in school.

When should I start talking about periods with my daughter?

If your child accompanies you to the store, let them see you purchase your own pads or tampons. Once at home, allow them to see inside the box and briefly explain what the items are for by using very simple sentences. At 5-6 years old we should start being much less secretive about our own cycles and model when and where is appropriate to discuss them. Make sure to vocalize when you do this! For example: “It isn’t best to talk about this at the store, but now that we are home I can tell you about this,” you might say as you unload the groceries and put away your items.

One of the most important things to consider is the amplification of sensory sensitivities during menstruation. On top of all the obvious pains, those with sensory issues have reported that “Life is much more difficult to manage during periods”, according to a study conducted by the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders called “Autistic Experiences of Menstruation”. However, many parents have found that making sure to introduce feminine hygiene products very early on were able to prepare, and even excite, their girls for the changes to come. The “change”, in fact, can be promoted as a sense of normality and repetition—it is something all women go through as they become grown-ups!

Allow your daughter to touch and experience a pad over time, starting around 8 years old. The texture can be uncomfortable for many girls with sensory issues, so it is important to let them get used to the textures early on. When discussing these things, make sure to stress the importance of asking mummy and daddy questions, but not those we see in public or friends that we would not talk to about our bathroom business.  

Sharing Period Facts with Visual Supports

Now that we’ve talked about at what age we should introduce the idea of the menstrual cycle, we should talk about some tried and true methods for getting the essential points across effectively. For parents of kids with ASD you might already be using books and picture guides to reach your child at their level. We can implement the same strategies of using visual supports to guide our girls into knowing what is coming, what to do, who to talk to, and when it’s appropriate to talk about.

If you are viewing this article by chance and have a daughter who doesn’t have sensory issues or ASD, these resources are still wonderful for introducing the menstrual cycle to young girls in a clear, honest, yet gentle manner. According to research conducted by Robyn Steward, an autistic woman who is a researcher at UCL, “Some would even worry that they were pregnant if they hadn’t had sex, and they didn’t know why their menstrual cycle might vary in length.” We must be honest about the facts in order to give a realistic perspective and remove some possible worries. Steward went on to create the book entitled, The Autism-Friendly Guide to Periods, has a straight-forward approach to teaching young girls about periods and why they happen with the goal of reducing stress and anxiety. Thankfully, we live in a time where the importance of girls’ health in relation to sensory issues is being noted! Here are more books and printables that can be downloaded:

Free e-book when you sign up: “I Have My Period” by Able2Learn

Create a Social Story by finding your own images

Check Pinterest for many free visual supports and creative ideas for teaching about the menstrual cycle.

Adding to the Routine

As with most teaching strategies for reaching children with sensory related issues, we must consider the child’s unique strengths and weaknesses. For some, learning about growing up and being like mum will be exciting and create a sense of pride and self-worth. For others, the idea of change, growing up, and dealing with the future instills great anxiety and fear. It is important to understand the individual and approach the situation with care, yet with truth and facts. The reality is, no matter how much they hate the topic it is going to occur sooner or later.

Calendars, schedules, and predictable events are often a major comfort zone for people with sensory processing issues. Let’s build on this trait by encouraging girls to keep a calendar and journal about their experiences. This is a great opportunity to instill a positive outlook on this time of growth by giving them a wall calendar and a journal with their favorite characters. A sporty girl might love these things with her favorite team, you do not have to make her items “girly” if that isn’t her personality. It helps to make sure to note that this is not going to change who they are as a person, but is only a change in routine.

Some things to include on the calendar and in the journal are:

  • Mark the start day and end day of the period. Make this obvious by using red markers. Some girls that love schedules might enjoy coloring in the whole block.
  • Some girls are aware of their ovulation week. Guide them to choose a specific color for this as well. Some women don’t think about ovulating until they want a baby, but many women feel strong symptoms which we will discuss in the next section.
  • Write down feelings, both physical and emotional. This will help both parent and child learn what ups and downs are associated with her menstrual cycle.

No matter the age, having a period is painful. Here are some strategies for easing the pains:

  • Be the fun parent: let your daughter have a special cupcake or treat to celebrate herself and the transition into womanhood. Remember, not all girls like this idea of growing up, but some will. The idea is to promote this time as normal and healthy, rather than scary.
  • Make heating pads available. You might also try a rice-filled heating pad. Many girls find exploring the texture reduces the stress of experiencing cramps as the heat helps to ease the pain.
  • Exercise helps to reduce negative menstrual symptoms like cramps, depression, nausea, and more. Try going for a stroll in the park or playing an outdoor game together.
  • Try a film night (or day) and spend time together resting and relaxing. Let your daughter know that her body will feel tired and that it is perfectly fine to rest and take naps.
  • Give her a mini-period party. Check out this First Period Kit from RubyLove. This is a cute way to introduce your daughter to growing up, but you may also want to get creative and make your own kit!

Defining what is Normal

As research continues and awareness of the need for resources is on the rise, it is important to consider some potential issues. There are a variety of helps in the form of pamphlets, graphics, and books that focus on the hygiene aspect of the menstrual cycle and even why the cycle occurs, but what is lacking is information about PMS and PMDD as well as other possible issues associated with periods. Several sources such as Autism Spectrum News and the previously mentioned journal, Autistic Experiences of Menstruation, note that hypersensitivities are particularly heightened before, during, and after a woman’s period. This could lead to higher levels of overall distress, and often causes diagnosis of PMS and PMDD to go unnoticed.

Hormonal influxes can cause increased violence, mood swings, depression, anxiety, and other emotionally related issues. Likewise, many of these symptoms are also associated with hypoglycemia. One way to prepare and prevent some potentially negative situations is to have your child keep a calendar like mentioned previously. By doing so your child is able to notice their own cycle and begin to recognize when menstruation symptoms are occurring. Additionally, you will be able to look at their calendar or journal and realize their patterns which will help make any abnormal cycles obvious. It can ease a lot of stress when you share some of these key factors to watch out for with your daughter.

Statements of Normal to Share, inspired by Sensory Stories

A period lasts from 3-7 days.

Blood will come out of my vagina during my period.

If a period lasts longer than 7 days, I should tell my trusted adult.

I might feel sad, angry, worried, or very tired. It’s good to take naps.

My body might feel sore. My stomach and lower back might hurt.

My period will happen every 28 days. If it happens sooner or later that is normal.

About two weeks after my period, I might have different colored and textured liquid coming from my vagina.

Tips for Parents and Caretakers

  • Use proper vocabulary words
    • The parts of the body are neither vulgar, nor are they curse words when we teach them to be used at appropriate times and with the appropriate adults. Many girls are 18+ when they finally get a good understanding of their own body simply because no one told them these facts before.
    • Some girls have reported to have painfully attempted to place a tampon in their anus as they were not sure where the blood was coming from.
  • Use visuals
    • For anyone learning about their period, choose some medical diagrams to explain body parts and include visual supports for explanations.
  • Be blunt and honest
    • Some girls have reported to worry that they might be pregnant even though they have never had sex. This needs to be addressed.
    • Girls need to know what sex is and that it is not okay to do outside of marriage.
    • They need to know that sex causes pregnancy.
  • Be realistic
    • Periods hurt, and we know that our sensory sensitive girls might feel the pains in a more extreme manner.
    • We cannot expect them to understand everything right away.
  • Be positive
    • While we must show realistic perspectives to the pain and anguish that will come, it is okay to be positive as this is all a part of God’s plan.

Red Flags

For most people, the menstrual cycle will occur normally in sensory girls just as they do in those without sensory issues. However, many are dealing with the alphabet soup of other disabilities, some of which could increase the negative effects of menstrual symptoms. Here are some of those red flags to watch out for in addition to some potential problems that could occur:

  • Cyclical violence and/or self-harm: Girls are much more prone to turn to self-harm as a coping mechanism for a variety of reasons. However, some have been observed to only do so at particular times of the month when hormones are unbalanced. Young women with ASD might exhibit signs of violent outbursts during this time of hypersensitivity, and some may turn to self-harm.
  • Periods should not last longer than seven days. If you notice your daughter is bleeding longer than this, it is time to see a doctor.
  • It is normal for a missed period to happen due to weight loss or change in stress levels, but it could also be a sign of other underlying issues. Most women with ASD do not receive propter gynecological care, so it is better to be safe than sorry.
  • Some women are blissfully unaware of when ovulation occurs about 2 weeks after bleeding. However, there is a small population that feels this change as the body becomes the most ready for baby-making. Your child’s sensitivities just might include some of these symptoms, so it is good to teach them to note these feelings or experiences on their calendar and/or journal. Keep in mind that this list of symptoms is what the average woman without sensory issues may experience. Your loved one with sensory needs may have an amplified experience in these ways:
    • Light spotting might occur. This means, there may be a trace of blood. This can be startling for a young girl just learning about her body.
    • Tender or sore breasts
    • Pelvic or lower abdominal pain
    • Heightened sense of smell – could be extreme for some and cause nausea as a reaction
    • Change in sex drive, also known as libido. This can be uncomfortable to discuss with young girls, but as children with sensory needs look for sensory stimulation, it is important to teach the idea of finding suitable alternatives. What they are feeling is normal and healthy, but we need to help them recognize self-control and “time and place”.

Helpful Products and Tips for your Period Routine

Thankfully we live in a time when there are so many options for managing cleanliness during a monthly period. The feel and touch of sanitary pads can be so very unhelpful but something that needs to be done! Let’s take a look at some thoughts and suggestions that are worth trying:

  • Cheeky Wipes has a variety of reusable products including comfortable period panties and pads.
  • SheThinx washable underwear has options based on flow needs and claims up to 4 tampons worth.
  • Formerly known as PantyProps, RubyLove makes period friendly underwear and swimwear. Their underwear claims to hold up to 2.5 tampons worth of blood without wearing additional pads or other protection.
  • Period pants might work better over a panty liner because, although they absorb some of the flow, they don’t last a full day and would have to be changed throughout the day.
  • Pants that are a snug-fit will stop sanitary towel movement or buy towels (with wings) that have better fastenings to stop them moving around.
  • Buy pads/towels that need to be changed more frequently but are not so bulky to wear–this way you can ensure they are changing it often.
  • Make homemade washable ones so the material and size can be chosen to suit.
  • Compression shorts can be worn over undergarments to provide much needed regulating deep touch input.

Bringing it all Together

For children with sensory processing issues, life is all about the world through the senses. As you discover your child’s unique sensory thumbprint, you will also find that this uniqueness grows and develops with them as they experience these natural changes. It can be a trying time, but remember that God is carefully watching over you and your loved one and that Jesus has sent the helper, the Holy Spirit, to be your guide towards peace.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11


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