Puberty and disabled teens

7min read

Mum and son on the phone

Supporting your child through this development

Disabled children usually grow up and go through puberty like any other young person. However, puberty may be early for some and delayed for others and there are some very rare medical conditions which mean that medication might be needed to bring on puberty and its associated changes. As much as possible, disabled young people need to be prepared for the changes to their body before they take place.

Parents often assume that their child’s physical impairment means that they are unable to explore their body or to masturbate. However, quite often they do find a way. Some children and young people masturbate because it helps them to feel warm, relaxed and loved, but young people with learning difficulties sometimes do not understand the difference between private and public. It is important to try and support young disabled people to know that what they are doing is natural and not wrong, but that it is only right on their own in a private place, such as their bedroom.

Tips for supporting your teenager

  • Knock before entering a bedroom or bathroom and tell your child that you will always do this now that they are older
  • Ask permission on each occasion before providing intimate care – e.g. Is it OK if I help you take off your pyjamas now?
  • Discuss personal care plans and reassess whether personal care is still necessary and whether aids and equipment could enable the young person to manage alone.
  • There are a number of very good resources to help parents explain to a young person with learning disabilities the changes that boy and girls go through at puberty

This content has been written for Family Lives by Contact a Family

Further support

Contact a Family’s booklet ‘Growing up, sex and relationships’ is for parents of disabled children or children with learning disabilities and gives advice on what to expect as your child matures, and what support is available to them when they start to form intimate relationships

The National Autistic Society has useful information for parents of children with autistic spectrum disorder. It gives guidance on how to discuss tricky topics such as puberty, sex, relationships, personal hygiene and so on with your autistic child. Read ‘Sex education and children and young people with an ASD’online and print it out for free.

Brook - provides free and confidential information about sex, contraception, STIs, pregnancy to under 25s