The physical and emotional changes that occur in adolescence, known as puberty, are part of the process of growing into an adult. Although young people with autism follow the same physical development trajectory as their peers at puberty, the emotional changes and increasing sexual urges that accompany adolescence maybe delayed or prolonged (Sullivan and Caterino, 2008). This means that sometimes a young person with autism’s psychological and social maturity does not keep pace with their physical maturity irrespective of ability.

Teenagers with autism might need longer to understand that their bodies and feelings may change during puberty.

‘The sexual health experiences and needs of young people with learning disabilities are varied and complex and issues will vary from individual to individual. However, their sexuality is often ignored, stereotyped or distorted, which may lead to the development of low expectations about sexual relationships and impact on their self-esteem.’ (Douglas Scott, 2004)

Douglas-Scott, S (2004), ‘Sexuality and Learning Disability’. In Burtney, E and Duffy, M (eds), Young People and Sexual Health: individual, social and policy contexts, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

It may be best to start preparing teenagers with autism for puberty well in advance.

As a guide, teenagers usually start puberty between the ages of 8 and 14 years – although every child is different!

Strategies that may help prepare teenagers for puberty include: