Puberty and autism: An unexplored transition

Published by: Spectrum

Henry’s early years in school had been rocky enough. The boy had been diagnosed with autism at age 7. He struggled to control his emotions and process sensory information in his Tennessee classroom. But by the time Henry was 10, his parents had figured out ways to ease these issues with therapy and medication.

Then puberty hit. Henry became moody and more sensitive. A perceived slight from a classmate could trigger an emotional outburst. “He couldn’t bounce back,” says his mother, Elisa. “He was upset for the rest of the day.” (We withheld Henry and Elisa’s last name to protect their privacy.)

Henry’s outbursts became harder and harder to manage as the small boy shot up to nearly 6 feet tall. Last year at age 13, as he was adjusting to new medication, his irritability and compulsive behaviors got so bad that Elisa and her husband pulled Henry out of school for two weeks. “He was so sad,” Elisa recalls. “It was awful.” Adding to the pandemonium was Henry’s burgeoning sexuality, complicated by his challenges with social skills. He would tell a raunchy joke, not intuiting that his parents would find it offensive. He might ask a girl he hardly knew to be his girlfriend. “I hope that we can just finish out this puberty ride,” Elisa says. “Because it is a roller coaster.” Click here to read the rest of the story.

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