Skip to main content

Puberty is a challenge for everybody, but for girls with special needs it can be confusing, worrying and downright scary. As one parent put it, ‘There's an extra mismatch when it's not teen angst and puberty, but instead it's My Little Pony and Tampax.’

A personal matter

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, but preparing for this big change and putting aside time to talk in advance could make all the difference. Think how your child learns best or relates to things; create a social story, use books with pictures, or cartoons online (see resources below).

Most importantly personalise it to them, otherwise they may not think it’s relevant and won’t listen.

Start early and be patient; it may take some time to sink in. Listen to their concerns, and don’t minimise them. You will need to talk about it again and again. Some parents have found it useful to share a book on puberty as regular bedtime reading.

Make it an event to look forward to; starting periods is a sign of growing up, moving towards independence, and making more of your own choices.

That may need explaining in different terms, such as saying it means going to bed later or being able to watch more TV.

Knowing what to expect

As well as bleeding, you need to teach girls to expect pains and the odd mood swing. Keep a diary so she can see a pattern developing and know when to expect her next period. This will also help explain how hormonal changes can make you feel more upset or angry sometimes. It’s good to highlight the 14 day cycle too, as around then there may be some discharge which can be alarming.

Keep the school informed. Talk with your daughter about what she should do if a period starts at school, for example, go to the school nurse. Unfortunately periods aren’t always regular at the beginning but learning to look out for warning signs like mood swings or pains can help.

Some parents opt for a mini pill to regulate periods, control hormones and keep bleeding days to a minimum.

What’s happening to my body?

Sarah Wild, headteacher at Limspfield Grange School for girls with autism, says many girls on the autistic spectrum worry about what their parents will think about their body changes. It is important to emphasise that breast development, body hair, spots and weight gain is all normal.

For many girls with special needs the main challenge is anxiety and the lack of control over their body changes. Worryingly this can lead to eating disorders as a way of taking back control, and in some cases stopping periods.

Gender identity and autism

The other challenge is that many girls with autism do not identify as being female.

At Limpsfield they teach the girls to accept people for who they are, and therefore learn to accept themselves. Girls need to ‘make peace with their bodies’ and be comfortable. If that means dressing like a boy then so be it. Confusion about sexuality is common amongst girls on the autistic spectrum as gender is not always important to them.

How can parents help?

  • Buy some pads and tampons and look at them together at home. Demonstrate putting a pad in knickers and putting them on. Suggest wearing one and getting used to the feeling.  With girls who have sensory issues, you may need to experiment with several different brands to find one which they find most comfortable.
  • Changing pads can be problematic if girls do not position them properly.  Some parents send girls to school with spare pairs of knickers with the pads already placed in them.  Another tip is to draw around the pad onto the knickers with marker pen, to give a guideline.
  • Getting girls to change the pads frequently enough can be difficult. Some parents simplify it by telling their daughter to change the pad every time they go to the toilet. The night-time pads can be useful for school days, as they will last longer.
  • Discuss how and where to throw used pads away. Use visuals, sometimes actual photographs of soiled pads in knickers work best. It’s good to avoid things getting too messy, but also try not to be too obsessive. One good tip is to buy black knickers.
  • Talk about other self-care activities like having a shower and using a deodorant, add wearing a pad to the list so it’s just another normal activity. At Limpsfield Grange they go a step further and help girls by arranging bra fittings and teaching them how to shave. This not only teaches the girls to accept their bodies, but they also learn how to care for it and avoid any unwanted attention by looking different.

Sex and safety

Use the correct terminology for all body parts and functions, never nicknames or euphemisms, this avoids confusion and is also important from a safety perspective. Talk about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, and who to talk to if you are not sure. Talk about sex at a level appropriate to your child’s ability to understand. Explain if a period is missed, you must talk to a teacher or parent as you may be pregnant.



BBC Bitesize animated clips. Topics covered include first periods, personal hygiene during periods, dealing with feelings, appropriate/inappropriate behavior, peer pressure and sex, and lots more

What's Happening to Ellie? A book about puberty for girls and young women with autism and related conditions by Kate E. Reynolds

Teaching Children with Down Syndrome About Their Bodies, Boundaries and Sexuality: A Guide for Parents and Professionals by Terri Couwenhoven

Secret Girls’ Business books which specialise in puberty and sex education

Most popular Good Schools Guide articles

  • Special educational needs introduction

    Need help? Perhaps you suspect your child has some learning difficulty and you would like advice on what you should do. Or perhaps it is becoming clear that your child's current school is not working for him or her, and you need help to find a mainstream school which has better SEN provision, or to find a special school which will best cater for your child's area of need. Our SEN consultancy team advises on both special schools, and the mainstream schools with good SEN support, from reception through to the specialist colleges for 19+. Special Educational Needs Index

  • Finding a state grammar school

      There are currently around 163 state funded grammar schools located in 36 English local authorities, with around 167,000 pupils between them. There are a further 69 grammar schools in Northern Ireland, but none in Wales or Scotland. Almost half of these are in what are considered 'selective authorities' (eg Kent and Buckinghamshire), where around one in five local children are selected for grammar school entry based on ability. The others are areas such as Barnet or Kingston, with only a few grammar schools. How to find a state grammar school Word of warning: not all selective grammar schools have…

  • Schools for children with performing arts talents

    As proud parents, we all know our children are unique. They're smarter than anyone else's, funnier, certainly more attractive, better behaved and above all bursting with the kind of talent that would leave Daniel Radcliffe or Charlotte Church standing. And sometimes, just sometimes, parental pride is justified.

  • The Good Schools Guide online subscription

    Find the best school for your child. One month subscription - £0.49 per day Three month subscription - £0.41 per day Six month subscription - £0.33 per day One year subscription - £0.29 per day Register for instant access to: ☑ Search for more than 30,000 schools in our parent friendly interactive directory. ☑ Create and save lists of schools via My Schools. ☑ Use our comparison grid to get exam results overview of schools you are interested in. ☑ Find comprehensive advice on state and independent schools, tutors and special needs. ☑ Catchment maps for English state schools by…

  • Uni in the USA... and beyond

    The British guide to great universities from Harvard to Hong Kong. We tell you how to choose, how to apply, how to pay. Why study in the US? Ask the US-UK Fulbright Commission... Ask the US-UK Fulbright Commission who report that you're in good company: the US is the top destination for international students worldwide.  In fact, over 11,000 British students chose the States for their studies last year. Read more Scholarships for International Students Here's where you click to receive our giant pdf on US university scholarships for international students, covering how to find financial aid and how... Read more Can I afford it? America might proclaim…

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
 Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,000 schools
 Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

The Good Schools Guide subscription

GSG Blog >    In the news >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

The Good Schools Guide Newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

Countdown to the first day of term


The Good Schools Guide 22nd edition is out now, and for a limited time get a one month free subscription with any purchase of The Good Schools Guide 22nd, or The Good Schools Guide to London.