Periods can be a difficult time for any person but for a PDA person it can be a time fraught with worry and embarrassment. It’s hard enough getting through this stage every month when you have lots of support, knowledge and practice, it’s even harder when you have no one to guide you, no real understanding of what’s happening and it’s your first time. My mother never really explained what was happening and why. When it came to support it was in the form of providing the necessary tampons and leaving me to it. Hopefully those with female body parts have more help and support than I did. When it comes to traversing the minefield that are periods when you have PDA it’s easy to end up in difficult waters, and it can be just as hard for parents to watch their children struggle.
By now you should have some understanding of how difficult it is for PDA people to accomplish even the most simple and routine of demands. Most of those can be delayed, avoided and are to some degree a choice, we don’t necessarily have to do our homework, clean dishes, brush our teeth. Yes there are annoying and uncomfortable results from avoiding those demands but they are not like breathing and eating, they are not essential to our survival. Periods are one of those that really do require dealing with. I suppose we could avoid dealing with them, but the consequences would be so unpleasant and risk our health that I think we can safely place this demand in the have to do pile. Whilst we also get to choose how, when and what we eat, we don’t get a say in when and how we have our periods. The only choice we get is in how we deal with them. The choices are limited though and I know from personal experience just how difficult this practice can be. Because periods aren’t really something that is discussed in public. It’s not something most people are open about. When it comes to PDA, secrecy, embarrassment and shame can make what should be a fairly simple thing to deal with become a huge mountain that seems impossible to overcome.
So are some tips for dealing with either your own or your child’s periods, whether it’s the first time or the hundredth:
- Knowledge is power – read up, learn and discuss. Most kids and parents don’t want to talk about periods anyway but PDA kids (and adults) may become even more resistant to talking about them. If talking about periods with another person isn’t the way to go then leaving information lying around where they will see them can be helpful. The more you know about how your body works, why periods happen and why good hygiene practise is important, the better equipped you will be with dealing with them. Learning about what’s normal can help reduce a person’s anxiety, it’s horrible to spend ages wondering if what’s happening to you is normal and supposed to happen. Having something to compare against can help relieve worries and make dealing with the process easier to manage. When you understand why we have periods you can start to accept they are going to happen on a regular basis, this will help prevent fighting against them happening.
- Chart them – autistic people feel better when they know what’s happening and when. This may not be the same for PDA people so you’ll need to make sure charting their periods is going relieve their anxiety rather than making it worse. Some may find it helpful to know which week they will have their period on whereas others may spend everyday worrying about the impending period. Charting them can allow them to realise that they will need to prepare and be easier on themselves that week. Also remember that people have a different number of days to wait between each period. This is usually around 28 days but can actually be anywhere from 21 days to 35 days. This also isn’t set in stone and many things can alter the dates of your period including your diet, illness, medical and health reasons, medication and many more. If you think your period has changed without any reason to explain it then it may be helpful to speak to a doctor just to make sure everything’s okay.
- Having the right products and know how to use them – there’s a wide variety of products you can use available. It can help to try them all until you find one you are comfortable with. Some PDAers may be unaware that they also come in different sizes, shapes and smells. This is very important for sensory issues. Every person’s period are different. They vary in how long they last, how heavy they are and how they look. It’s important that the PDAer knows this as they may become worried if their periods are vastly different from their friend’s/sibling’s. They will need to use the right product for the period. If they have a light period they can choose product that focus on comfort whereas if they have a heavy period they may need to prioritise usefulness over comfort. Having a packet of wet wipes (you can buy ones specifically for periods and some even come with products such as pads) available can help with keeping the area clean and smelling fresh. You can buy products and wipes that have no smell and ones that smell of perfume. Practising using the products (sometimes before their periods) can help them get used to using them without worrying about figuring out how they work at the last minute. Some products have instructions and if not then you can get instructions from online or at the doctors/pharmacist. Many kids may want to practise on their own without anyone knowing, it’s important for parents to use discretion in this case.
- DON’T PANIC – especially if you’re the parent. Your child will pick up on how you are feeling, if you are worried then they will think there is something to worry about and will likewise worry. It’s important for the PDAer to stay calm when faced with their periods, panicking will only make it harder to focus on what needs doing, although this is easier said than done. Periods are a normal and regular part of every female’s body process.
- There’s more to it than just bleeding – there are many aspects to a period and they can vary from person to person. Some become emotional, displaying greater aggression, anger, upset, anxiety, vulnerability etc, whereas some have little to no emotional change. This is typical for periods and some find they are harder to be around during their periods. There is nothing wrong with feeling different around your periods and at first it can be hard to manage, but with time and practise you can learn to manage your emotions better during this time until the period passes. Some people experience cramping and other aches and pains. This can be anywhere from mild to severe, at it’s worst it can cause you to stay in bed for the duration. If they are that bad then it may be helpful to seek relief from your doctor.
- Good hygiene practise is important – not just for you but for others. During your period your body will most likely sweat more, smell more and your skin and hair may become greasier. These are all normal changes and can be managed mostly by bathing more. This of course can be difficult for PDA people. It’s hard enough washing without having the extra need of keeping extra clean during your period. Luckily you may not need to shower/bathe more regularly if you do daily washes of the parts of yourself that are most likely to need it. Certain shampoos and soaps can help with greasy skin and hair. When it comes to sweat and smell, you can clean the areas which are affected using soap and/or wet wipes. You can also use deodorant to cover any smell and take spare clothing with you whenever you go out in case you need to change to stay smelling fresh. It’s very important that you keep your intimate area as clean as possible. Only clean the outside area though, never use soap inside as your body produces special cleaning liquid which flushes out germs and washing there can affect that special liquid in negative ways. Shaving can help keep the outside area clean too but you will need to be careful as to how this is done as shaving can affect your skin and cause itchiness.
- Provide security – one of the most embarrassing things about periods is having other people know that you are having yours. This worry can be exaggerated in PDAers. They may refuse to deal with their periods, they may hide used products or refuse to use the products and so use other items instead. When I was a teen I hid used pads in my wardrobe. I didn’t want anyone knowing I was on my period and if I used the bin in the bathroom or outside someone might see. This wasn’t a practical solution though as the wardrobe started to badly smell and my mother was really angry when she found a bunch of them hidden away. It wasn’t pleasant for anyone. Even now I will try to hide evidence of my period from my partner. Having a bin which is separate from the family bin can be helpful. If you’re a parent then it can be helpful not to call attention to your child’s period. Removing the used products when they are not around can make things easier and if they do hide them try not to bother them too much about it as embarrassing them about it may make the demand harder on them. You can buy bags specifically for disposing of used products which may make it easier for them to hide their waste. You can also hide used products in tissue paper or toilet roll or even newspaper. Having these lying around in the bathroom can be helpful. Having sensory acceptable sprays at hand for after the bathrooms has been used can help hide any smells which the PDAer will want masked. You may need to inform your PDAer that used products cannot be flushed down the toilet either as they will block up the toilet and cause them to come back up. I know this from experience and you’d be surprised how many neurotypical people do this too.
- Puberty not started yet? – most people start their periods around the age of 15, however many can start as early as 12 and there have been reports of children starting their periods as young as 2. If your child starts their period before the age of 12 then it may be helpful to consult a doctor as there are medications which can delay puberty. Others may not begin puberty until after 18, if you/your child hasn’t started puberty after 18 then you should consult your doctor, there are some causes which actually prevent a person from starting puberty at all and these may be able to be addressed. There’s no way you yourself can begin your periods, they happen when your body is ready. There’s nothing bad about being earlier or later than your peers and even though it can be embarrassing being the only one who has/hasn’t it probably wont be long before you and your peers are all having periods together.
- If in doubt, check it out – if you have any worries about yourself or your child it is always helpful to go to your doctor. You have the right to ask for a female doctor if you wish. If you are worried about visiting the doctor then you can always look online for advice and help. The NHS website has lots of helpful information on periods and puberty.
- Remember that it’s a demand – and a big demand at that. It’s a very sensitive time so meeting the demands around periods can be very hard. Try to be sympathetic with the PDA person. Allow them the space to deal with this in their own time. They may need help and they may not, you’ll probably know best what they need. It will be hard for them to ask for help if they do need it and the way you deliver that help is important, you don’t want to further put them off. You could drop subtle hints, tell them stories of your own puberty, leave them leaflets and information to read alone, discuss it with them or simply leave them to it. Whatever they need. Even as an adult periods are going to be hard. If the whole thing is too much then it might be worth asking your doctor for pills that stop the bleeding, especially if you aren’t planning on having children any time soon. There are some birth control products which reduce/stop your periods too.