Boys grow and develop (both mentally and physically) at different rates and ages. It is important to know when the “right” time is to begin talking with your son about his development. Ideally, you should begin introducing your son to his body, including his genitals, at an early age. Then, when it is time to talk about the sexual function of his body, it may not be as difficult. Use your judgment in determining when your son is ready for a conversation about puberty and sexuality. For many boys, this may be around age 9 to 11. Keep in mind that it may be earlier or later, depending on your child’s development.
Whatever the age, it is important to think about where to begin. Find out what your son knows. Does he already know the body parts? Does he know what it means to have an erection? Use visuals such as drawings and pictures, or use a hand held mirror to help find out if he can name his body parts and genitals and tell you the function of each part. When talking with your son about his body, use the proper or real names of each body part, instead of just saying “down there.” Also teach your son the slang terms for male and female body parts; he is likely to hear them at school or elsewhere.
Keep it SIMPLE. For example:
- “This is your penis: this is where the urine/pee comes out when you use the toilet.”
- “This is your anus: this is where the stool/poop comes out after your food has been digested.”
- “This is your penis: this is where semen comes out when you ejaculate.”
Be POSITIVE and tell him that his body will grow taller, his testicles and penis will grow bigger, and hair will grow under his arms and in his groin area and that it is NORMAL. Explain that it happens to all boys (including you/his dad) as they grow up. He may not be happy to hear that semen will come out of his penis, but reassure him that it is normal and a sign that he is growing to become a man.
Keep it PRIVATE. Talk to him about privacy. Talk to him about appropriate people to discuss his experiences about puberty. There is a curriculum titled Circles, which provides a method for visually delineating relationships. The curriculum uses concentric circles to show levels of relationships, from strangers to those in the inner most circle who are people your son is closest to. Visually show your son who fits into each circle and who he can talk to about puberty and sexuality issues.
A good way to open the conversation is through books and materials that discuss puberty and sexual topics in a frank and straightforward manner. The end of this article offers several suggestions.
- Consider using picture books or a body puzzle to make a simple game such as “find the body part” to see if your son understands what the body parts are and their functions; give him a healthy reward or praise to show him that he has done well.
- Read books together about puberty/adolescence, OR if your son doesn’t want to read with you, make them available to him by placing them in places where he plays.
It is important to prepare your son for nocturnal emissions before he is likely to experience one. You might want to say: “As you get older this might happen in your sleep. If it does, your pajamas and sheets will be wet. When this happens, take a shower, put your wet clothes and sheets in the washer, and put clean sheets on your bed. You have not wet the bed. This happens to all boys your age. This is also known as having a ‘wet dream.’”
Discussing masturbation is an anxiety-provoking moment for any parent. It is important to address the topic with your son in a manner that is consistent with your family’s belief system and to set rules that are both age appropriate and comfortable for you to enforce. This includes acknowledging that it is normal for your son to have sexual urges and interest. Because many children on the autism spectrum tend to self-stimulate in various ways, boundaries must be set around masturbation. You will need to be explicit. Teach rules for appropriate time and place, and tell your son that sometimes masturbation is not an option. Provide your son with scheduled private time where he will be undisturbed. Consider addressing the following with your son:
- Where can masturbation occur? Instruct your son that masturbation is a private matter. It is not to be done in public or in an area where anyone else might be or might enter. Be explicit with where an appropriate location might be, such as in your son’s room with the door closed.
- What happens after your son ejaculates? How should he clean up after himself?
- How do you feel about the use of visual aids that are readily available (for example, everyday catalogs and magazines, not necessarily more graphic ones)?
Children are most likely to have a healthy, positive view of sexuality if the parents set guidelines and fully explain sexual changes before they begin to happen, so that parents (or the child’s teachers) are not in a position where they have to confront the child for inappropriate sexual behavior. If problem behavior related to masturbation occurs, interrupt the behavior, but don’t overreact. Remind your child of the rules you have established, and redirect your child to another activity or to a private location, as appropriate.
By establishing an open dialogue with your son about sexuality, which includes being safe and socially appropriate, you will help prepare him for adolescence and adulthood and will make him more likely to turn to you for information about sexuality in the future.
- Puberty in Girls: Discussing Masturbation
- Puberty in Girls: Physical Changes and Menstruation
- Sexuality Instruction for Tweens, Teens and Young Adults
- Teaching Your Child Hygiene and Grooming Skills
What’s Happening to Me? A Guide to Puberty by Peter Mayle and Arthur Robins; Kensington Publishing Ltd, 1975. This straight-forward book on puberty details changes to the bodies of males and females. The use of cartoons and humor sets a light mood for both the parent and child.
What’s Happening to My Body: A Book for Boys by Lynda Madaras, Area Madaras, and Simon Sullivan; Newmarket Press, 2007. This straight-forward book discusses puberty and the male body. A workbook companion piece entitled, My Body, My Self for Boys, can be purchased separately and includes games, checklists, and quizzes to reinforce what boys have learned.
Hygeine and Related Behaviors for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum and Related Disorders by Kelly Mahler, MS, OTR/L; Autism Asperger Publishing Company, 2009. Presented in a lesson plan format, the book is designed to help children on the autism spectrum make the connection between hygiene behaviors and how those behaviors are perceived by others. There is a CD with worksheets that can be downloaded and printed for use.
Making Sense of Sex: A Forthright Guide to Puberty, Sex and Relationships for People with Asperger’s Syndrome by Sarah Attwood; Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd., 2008. This book is ideal for those who need clear, detailed explanations and direct answers to the many questions raised by puberty and sexual maturity. The book describes developments in both the male and female body, and explains how to maintain hygiene and personal care and how to promote general good health. The book examines emotional changes, including moods and sexual feelings, and provides comprehensive information on sex, sexual health, and reproduction as well as the nature of friendship and how it may change over time.
Personal Hygiene? What’s that Got to Do with Me? by Pat Crissey; Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd., 2005. This book was developed for individuals on the autism spectrum and other learning and developmental disabilities to help them understand how others perceive their appearance and the social implications of neglecting personal hygiene. There are quizzes and hands-on activities to demonstrate why and how to perform various hygiene tasks.
Taking Care of Myself, A Hygiene, Puberty, and Personal Curriculum for Young People with Autism by Mary Wrobel; Future Horizons, 2003. Written by a teacher/speech-language pathologist, the book uses simple stories to demonstrate what to say and not to say when talking to your child about hygiene and puberty. The book addresses hygiene, modesty, body growth and development, menstruation, touching, personal safety, and more.
The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality by Michael J. Basso; Fairview Press, 2003 (2d Ed). Written by a sex educator, this book is for teenagers. It provides accurate and objective information about sexuality to help teens understand their changing bodies and make informed decisions about sexual activity.
My First Human Body Book by Patricia J. Wynne and Donald M. Silver; Dover Publications, 2009. This is a coloring book that teaches all parts of the body and body functions.
Human Body Puzzle by Melissa & Doug. This is a 100-piece, double-sided, cardboard floor puzzle. One side displays the musculoskeletal system and the other shows the internal organs and the circulatory system.