Expanding the Conversation: The Intersection of Feminine Hygiene & Autism 

Let’s be honest: the female body is complicated.  Even for women with adequate education and resource accessibility, the female anatomy, reproductive organs, and cycle can be difficult to comprehensively understand on one’s own (no, the term “vagina” does not encompass everything you see when you look “down there,” and yes, there are three holes), let alone explain in detail to someone else.  In addition to the complicated anatomy, there’s a deeper, crucial conversation about menstruation and feminine hygiene that has to happen so that all females fully understand their bodies’ natural processes and the options available to them to maintain health, hygiene, and confidence.  Experts assert that having this conversation “early and often” for girls approaching puberty reduces anxiety and instills a sense of appreciation and ownership of their bodies.  The value of this conversation is inarguable; however, there are several factors that may obstruct ease and access to this information for young girls, including but not limited to stigmatization, socio-economic status, familial structure, and physical or mental impairment.  While these factors may encumber the conversation, the necessity for it remains.

For young women with autism, education about their bodies and appropriate training on the skills necessary to maintain health and hygiene can have a significant positive impact by providing these young women the possibility of  “greater privacy and independence, heightened community access, and less illness and unnecessary medical intervention,” as asserted by behavioral experts.  Thus, the “period conversation” becomes even more critical to a higher quality of life.

Parents and caregivers of girls with autism can use several strategies and tools to best serve these young women and prepare them for menstruation.  One such approach is the use of chaining, which involves breaking an objective (such as changing a pad) into small concrete tasks and providing guidance, repetition, and re-ordering of steps until the objective has been mastered.  Another tool is the use of a “period kit.” The parent may work with the child to put together a package containing items such as pads, pantyliners, a spare pair of underwear, and a reference guide.  This activity encourages a positive outlook by allowing the girl to help pick out the items, as well as a stylish but discreet container for these necessities.  Again, a sense of appreciation and ownership of her changing body and her own health and hygiene is key to female empowerment, so encouraging this positive perspective before puberty paves the way for a healthy transition.  

If young women with autism are granted these vital conversations with their parents, caregivers, doctors, and/or therapists, menarche can be handled as a welcome milestone in their lives, rather than a shock or struggle.   By recognizing the needs of women with autism and extending necessary resources to them, their self-esteem, independence, and opportunities may be expanded significantly. This, in turn, leads to a healthier and more productive society, exemplifying the notion that issues of women’s health should matter for everyone.  No portion of the population should be overlooked when it comes to health.   For more information on autism and ways in which you can get involved, please visit the Autism Speaks website.  

And, as always, we hope you’ll consider our invitation to get involved with the Be a Rose mission. Together, we can open and embrace the period conversation in a powerful way! Follow us on Facebook for more updates on all our community efforts!

 By: Aanee Kai