The following questions were asked at the recent Special Needs Through the Lifespan seminar on November 1, 2014. Dr. Haag's talk was titled, Parenting Through Puberty. The following is a list of questions submitted by parents that were not answered during the question and answer portion of the seminar.
What do I need to try to discuss with my special needs child who is physically 15, but developmentally 8 ?
When discussing issues such as puberty and sexual development itis very important to take into consideration developmental age and cognitive ability. Since it was noted that cognitively the adolescent was believed to be functioning at the level of an eight year old, explanations should fit this developmental level. For young women, it is very important for them to understand the menstruation process so they’re not alarmed when this does occur. A discussion about appropriate touch is absolutely necessary. Even though your child cognitively may be eight years of age, the introduction of pubertal hormones will lead to sexual feelings. As mentioned in the lecture, using pictures, drawings, or anatomical models is important for them to understand this sexual process, know proper names for genitals, and receive education on the consequences of engaging in sexual actions; both positive and negative.
Does a child who is cognitively delayed need to have talks about sexual development?
Yes. All young adults need to have some education regarding sexual development. This education does not have to on take the full form of education given to a child who’s not cognitively delayed. At the very least its as important for your developing young adult to understand what types of touch are appropriate and encourage them to talk to you when they feel uncomfortable with any kinds of touches they are receiving from others. See the answer to the prior question.
How do parents address the loss of self-confidence leading to depression? How do we handle mood swings?
Adolescent depression is a very serious concern. It is important when children begin to lose self- confidence to help them identify and be confident in their personal strengths. They can be helped most by separating the results of their behavior or circumstances from their identity as a person. For example: you can fail at reaching a goal, but thisb does not make one a failure. This distinction seems subtle, but for those who are losing self-confidence, in their mind, failing means that they are a failure. Reassuring them of your support and love and simply being there for them is important as well. Sometimes a simple listening ear, that is not quick to offer suggestions, is the best therapy.
The second part of the question addresses mood swings. It is important to validate in your adolescent that anger and irritability are a normal part of human expression. It is important not to take their emotional outburst personally. While it is not correct to say that your child cannot control their emotional outbursts, it is correct that it is much more difficult for them to control these emotional outbursts. Understanding this fact hopefully causes you to have some empathy for your adolescent. Regardless, it is important to set limits on these emotional outbursts. It is okay to say something like “I understand that you’re angry, but you cannot slam your doors.” Encourage an adolescent to go to a safe place, such as their room, to take a few moments to calm down. Encouraging them to take a walk and cool off before discussing important items is also a way to defuse tense situations.