Preparing for the “Monthly Visitor”
Tips from mothers that have already been through it.
My daughter has not yet becomes a young lady, but,the thought of her starting to menstruate does send a bit of a shiver down my spine. How should I handle it? When should I begin talking about it? How will my daughter handle it? What new surprises may I now have to deal with? It’s tough on any young lady, let alone one with other challenges. So, I set out to ask other mothers that have already been through it with their daughters to share their experiences and provide any tips that would help guide me and ease my fears. Just being able to hear/read how another parent handled it put some of my fears to rest.I now feel that I, at least, have a game plan. Below are a set of questions,along with answers, that were asked of mothers who children have different disabilities. Because of the sensitivity of this article, names have been changed to protect the privacy of all.
PSN: When did you start talking about menstruation with your special needs daughter? What did you say? How did you explain it?
Mother 1: I started speaking about menstruation with my daughter beginning about the age of 9 or 10. Not entirely sure how to go about bringing up the topic. The library has many books on the topic of both menstruation AND “how babies are made”. Make sure that the books are age appropriate in her ability to grasp and comprehend. Along with those books, I also dug out a book that MY own mother read to me as a young girl who was about to go into the stages of body changes. It is entitled “What’s Happening, to My Body Book for Girls”. I went over all the topics I felt she would need to know about and understand, making sure to answer any questions she may have had along the way. Talk about the different products available and show how they are to be used. Pads are a little more easy to understand and apply. When explaining things to her, repetition always worked best. Basically, it is like explaining something to an extremely young child. Even now, she still has moments like that, although she is getting better about it.
Mother 2: I started talking to Shannon about her menstrual cycle when she was around ten or eleven years old. This was also about the same time she was developing her breast buds. I explained to her that getting a period was a big thing and it was also the start of becoming a woman. I explained that the bleeding part was okay, it was part of the menstrual cycle and not to be afraid. I explained the menstrual cycle only lasted three to five days. I told her I would be there to help her along the way.
PSN: How do you deal with this monthly visitor?
Mother 2: When Shannon finally got her “friend”, as we called it, she was about twelve. We celebrated by going out for ice cream. I told her my little girl was growing up, that she was now a young woman! I helped with changing her pads for about a year and she figured out by then how to do it. Once in a while we would have an accident.
I feel dealing with a special needs child or any child should have a daily routine. It is important especially during this time of the month. A schedule to change her pads, for example,in the morning, before lunch at school, when she arrives home from school, before dinner and after she took her bath before bed. Also encourage bathroom use more often during this time of month, it may help prevent any accidents or catch one before it becomes too bad. Those new moist, flushable wipes also help with wiping and keeping the area clean.
PSN: How do you handle it with the schools or other caregivers?
Mother 1: I make sure to stay in a solid connection with EVERYONE involved in my daughter’s care. Whether in school (with her counselors, psychologists), home (family members and friends), or other extended help (counselors, case workers, psychologists). When we are all on the same page at every turn, and we let Kristi know as much, we feel the days go smoother and the communication is much stronger. The time of the month isn’t usually a disruption to my daughters daily education (unless she forgets to pack pads, or starts while at school and isn’t prepared).
Mother 2: On days she was in school I would call the teacher first, before Shannon arrived at school. I have never had any problems getting the teachers to help out. Ask them to please be discrete (I felt this was a private matter and that Shannon was a little embarrassed). I was lucky that all of her teachers had been females.
PSN: Do you have suggestions for products/tips that may be helpful. Are there things that have worked for you and your child?
Mother 1: The only tip I can offer is to use books/charts as a teaching aid if you are unable to find the words to explain the changes going on with your daughter. It worked for me. Also, showing them the different products available and working with them to see what may be more comfortably fitted to them for regular use.
Oh, and good regular hygiene. I can’t tell you how often I explain this to my daughter. Periods and other changes bring all sorts of unpleasant odors to the body. Proper cleaning methods need to be explained and taught on a VERY continual basis. As I’ve mentioned before: I must go over it all the time with my daughter so that it will eventually click enough for her to remember and understand not just that she HAS to do it but also WHY she has to. I only hope that it will one day become more of a habit and less of something she has to mentally think about.
PSN: Are mood swings a problem/issue any advise?
Mother 1: Mood swings are a bit tough to analyze when it comes to my daughter. She started having mood swings when the mild anxieties started. Then add to the mix typical teenage hormones……….and finally premenstrual hormones. There isn’t a day that goes by that she isn’t moody about something. Though I have learned to differentiate the moods and when they surface most. Her attitude and “mouthiness” surface regularly. She is most emotional (weepy, happy) during her periods.
Advice? I don’t feel that I can offer anything more than what most of the parents have tried or adopted as their own personal method. Some moods you just have to allow, as long as it isn’t disrespecting towards themselves or others around them. At times, my daughter needs her space, just like most people do. Other times, she forgets herself and vents at the wrong times (forgetting to put the brakes on her tongue as it were). Those are times when I make the decision to either walk away to calm down or to correct her then and there with a firm explanation of my disappointment in her. Usually,>at this time, she would go to her room and I would go to a room in the house for us to both cool down. Regarding her sad moods:after I ask if she’s ok, I give her space and time in her room. She usually comes out later in a better mood and more willing to talk about it.
Mother 2: At the time, because I was in the moment and I took care of Shannon myself, I did not really notice the mood swings. As years went by, I did notice she seemed to be more aggressive during her menstrual cycle.
PSN: Did you consult with a Doctor for help? If so, was it a Pediatrician, Gynecologists, General Practitioner or other? What did they suggest/advise?
Mother 1: No, No Dr.’s were consulted. She had started her periods before her “regular” counseling sessions and case workers were assigned. She hasn’t been to a Gynecologist as of yet. I may need some advice on that one, as I believe it may be a bit of an ordeal for her. She is very body conscious and would be extremely anxious in the Dr.’s office.
Mother 2: I consulted with my gynecologist. If Shannon had not been regular, the doctor had suggested putting her on the pill, not for birth control reasons, but to have that regularity in her cycle. Shannon and I did not talk about sex until she was fifteen or sixteen. My child has Cerebral Palsy, so mentally she is delayed about four to five years. Later when Shannon was older, I did speak with a couple of different gynecologists about the birth control pill for the protection. The doctors I spoke with wanted to do the regular GYN exam and had not had the experience of dealing with a disabled young adult. At the time I did not see how my daughter would mentally be able to handle it.
PSN: Did you put your child on a form of birth control for safety reasons, as well as for regulating their periods?
Mother 1: I have not. Her periods (unlike mine at her age) don’t seem to be anything that’s so bad that a Midol can’t take care of. She reacts well to the Midol. It works, and she usually feels better shortly thereafter. I’d rather not bring birth control into the equation until I see signs and/or the need to.
Mother 2: No, Shannon has always been in a sheltered environment so at the time I did not feel it was necessary. If I had to do it all over, I would have put her on the birth control to help her with the mood swings.
PSN: Are there any tips you would like to share with our readers?
Mother 1: Forgetting what it was like when we were teens, going through that phase can be real easy at times. Often, I look at my daughter and try to remember how strange, weird, and uncomfortable I felt at those stages. I then have to stop and remind myself that not only is my daughter going through the changes of most young ladies, but that she’s doing it with everything else that she has going on inside her emotionally and mentally. It’s hard enough for them to always fully grasp why they are the way they are in everyday life, we have to be patient, understanding and loving as they also try to come to grips with this emotional roller-coaster called “going through the changes of becoming a young woman”. Be there for them and be supportive. When all is said and done, it will be our reactions and strengths as parents that will help them to solidify their roles into the adult world.
PSN: Are there any books/resources that you have found to be helpful?
Mother 1: “What’s Happening To My Body Book For Girls” It worked for me as a teen. It worked in explaining things to my own teen daughter (even with the extra time needed to go over topics repeatedly). Other resources that I have found helpful are including her in programs that will match her up with other girls close to her age of similar personalities and needs that she will feel she has enough in common with to talk and bond with. That program, I have found, has been The Sun-Up Program of Indian River County. Positive groups like that have brought only positive changes and additional support strength to me and my daughter.