top of page

Ep 23: Puberty & Autism Don’t Mix: Navigating Puberty with Our Neurodivergent Kids

Updated: May 8

And we’re not going to sugar coat it friends: navigating puberty with neurodivergent kids is rough. And it’s not just because we have to explain to our kids the importance of showering and explaining the function of certain parts of their anatomy in great and uncomfortable detail.


Puberty also brings with it some intense emotional and personality changes. The little kids that we knew so well are maturing into adults that we often don’t understand quite as well anymore, and that transition can be tough too.


In this episode, we’re reflecting on what puberty looked like for our kids, the direct and honest ways we navigated conversations with our kids, and the tricky emotional and relationship territory that our kids find themselves in now. 


We also discuss some of the fears our kids have expressed to us about the situations they are finding themselves in and some of the discomfort they have around growing up and going through puberty as well.


All these changes are necessary and important… but that doesn’t make it easy. We’re here for you, friends, as you travel down this road. Let’s dive in!



In this episode, you’ll learn...

  • [05:51] What those waiting rooms where we spent hours, days, and months in with ALL of our kids are actually like

  • [09:10] Gwen’s waiting room ditty

  • [14:49] The things (and people) that made waiting in those dingy little rooms more tolerable

  • [16:17] What it felt like to question the usefulness of therapy in those waiting rooms

  • [22:34] The benefits and limitations of talk therapy for our neurodivergent children

  • [28:04] Our key takeaways from this episode on the purgatory that is the therapy waiting room and how to make it just a little bit better

  • [30:05] The Last Word





If you just can't get enough of us, don’t forget to join our newsletter and check out our other projects.


Resources for this episode…



Transcript for "Ep 23: Puberty & Autism Don’t Mix: Navigating Puberty with Our Neurodivergent Kids"

Gwen:

If you have an appreciation for honest and sometimes irreverent conversations about parenting and walking alongside neurodivergent humans, you are in the right place. I'm Gwen.

Kristen:

And I'm Kristen. And together we have decades of experience parenting fiercely amazing neurodivergent humans, as well as teaching, writing, advocating, and consulting. All of this has provided us with an endless supply of stories of inspiring failures and heartbreaking wins.

Gwen:

Welcome to You Don't Want a Hug, Right? We promise to come at you each episode as our true selves, sharing the hilarity and delight in the midst of the heart of our journeys. You'll also hear directly from our kids at the end of each episode.

Kristen:

Most importantly, we hope to remind you of your immense value as a human outside of the caretaking role you play. So grab a cozy blanket and a beverage and go hide in a closet nearest you.

Gwen.

Gwen:

Hey, K.

Kristen:

We're so getting into it today. I'm a little afraid for us. I'm definitely afraid for our listeners, but-

Gwen:

Especially if they haven't yet entered the realm that we will dive into today head first.

Kristen:

Yeah. So maybe trigger warning. We're talking puberty today, friends.

Gwen:

Yeah, we are.

Kristen:

You had to put your big girl panties on.

Gwen:

Or big boy boxers.

Kristen:

Or big boy boxers or briefs. Whichever. No judgment. Buckle up.

Gwen:

There's no avoiding this topic.

Kristen:

No. We've tried as long as we can.

Gwen:

Oh, I can't even say we've tried. Mine started in the fifth grade, so...

Kristen:

I mean, on the podcast.

Gwen:

Oh, on the podcast.

Kristen:

Yes.

Gwen:

We have tried to avoid it. And Rylan, let's be clear, didn't enter puberty in fifth grade. He just thought he was in puberty in fifth grade.

Kristen:

Oh. Excellent.

Gwen:

So, we'll get into that. But let's start with our Grahamisms and Rylanisms. Because I have a pretty exciting one.

Kristen:

Oh my gosh. Yes, you do.

Gwen:

Rylan James passed his driving test yesterday and is officially a driver.

Kristen:

That is both amazing and horrifying.

Gwen:

Terrifying. He took his test the first time and we did not set him up for success because we took him to a place where we thought he could drive our car. And when we got there, they said, "Oh no, you have to drive our car." Well, that's quite a loop to throw any kid into, especially one who thrives on the expected. And so he did not pass the first one and felt devastated.

So I did what mommas do, and I went and found a driving school 35 minutes away that allows you to use your own car. And I made a call, and I connected with the owner, and it turns out she has two grandsons with autism and she gets it. And she wanted to be the support system for him. So she snuck us in. There was a three-week wait but she snuck us right in on Monday morning. And she was amazing. I mean, he did all the work, but she was like, "Let's remember, we're about to enter an intersection." And then he would crane his neck forward like a little turtle out of his shell and look both ways as an appropriate driver always does. And she just guided him along the whole thing. I'm in the back seat. Because you have to be quiet. You can't make a sound.

Kristen:

I can't believe they let you in the car.

Gwen:

They have to. You have to have a parent in the car here.

Kristen:

Whoa.

Gwen:

Yeah. But I'm not allowed to talk.

Kristen:

Yeah, that must have been torture for you.

Gwen:

I was texting Tim manically the entire time. But he passed with flying colors. She was so excited for him. He had a genuine smile on his face. I videoed the whole thing, which he was pissed about. Not the whole driving test, just the her telling him that he passed. And then I took him out for a burger. So it was a win of a day.

Kristen:

And can I just say that when Gwen was relating this to me yesterday and we were just celebrating and so excited, Graham happened to walk into the room and asked what we were so excited about. And we told him. And we told him that Rylan was really afraid to drive and is still afraid to drive, but now he has a license to do it. And Graham said, "Relatable."

Gwen:

Even though he doesn't have a license.

Kristen:

He finds the, "I'm afraid to drive," relatable.

Gwen:

Relatable. "And just because we got a license," I told Graham, "Rylan has no intention of actually driving alone. It was more that he just was going to get the license."

Kristen:

Yeah.

Gwen:

So, today he's going to drive himself to work, but I'm going to drive in a car behind him.

Kristen:

Of course you are.

Gwen:

And be on speakerphone in the car with him, because that's the steps we need to take.

Kristen:

Oh my God.

Gwen:

Just like when he took the bus the first time, I followed the bus in my car.

Kristen:

I was just thinking about that. Same. Oh my gosh.

Gwen:

All right. Grahamism.

Kristen:

Well, Graham is just becoming so self-aware and so cool, and really just coming out of his shell. And he was talking with his brothers. One of his brothers has a boyfriend, and the boyfriend came to dinner at our house. That's the first time we've ever had that. So that was really exciting. And Graham told everybody at the table, "I'm really afraid to have a girlfriend, but I would like to have one, but I'm too afraid." And that's the first time he's ever even acknowledged that he would like that in his life, so we thought that was pretty cool.

Gwen:

That is cool. That is an important first step to want it.

Kristen:

To want it. Yeah.

Gwen:

Yeah. Were the boys supportive of his want?

Kristen:

They were. They were like, "Same, dude. Same. We're scared too." It was very sweet. It was a sweet moment. I think that's a great segue into our topic.

Gwen:

Sure is.

Kristen:

Because we're going to start this conversation today, but by no means will we exhaust this topic. We will be coming back to it. But let's just start by saying that puberty and autism don't mix, friends. It's a tough, tough phase, and comes on the heels of feeling like you've finally figured out who your child is and how to support them. And then puberty turns it all upside down.

Gwen:

Every single bit.

Kristen:

Every single bit. So, the challenges don't necessarily make the autism worse. The autism makes the puberty worse. Some of the things that I was looking into when we're thinking about talking about this topic with you guys today is that researchers are really just starting to look into what happens to the brains of autistic children during adolescence and to try and explain why this phase of life just becomes so untenable for so many families. The defining features of autism -- having sensory and emotional issues and repetitive behaviors and missing all the social nuance -- can make it incredibly difficult for them to understand what's coming, which is more social nuance, more sexual behaviors and sexual maturity, more interested in friendships and dating. Things just get more socially complicated. And that's when we start to see our kids fall apart, right when their brains are actually changing physiologically.

Some researchers are really looking into brain imaging and what's going on with the brains of autistic adolescents. And it seems to be, there's some emerging evidence, that it's kind of a second punch, like in a one-two punch, the first punch being in the womb when things change in autistic brains. And then when brains are changing again in adolescence, there's all this changing going on in the brain. There's this pruning going on. And it doesn't happen the same way in our kids who are autistic. Their brains are changing in different ways. And there's some research to show that's really adding to the challenges and the gaps that are growing at that age. A lot of times families will tell me, "It seems like my kid was this person, and now they're this totally different person, and we're seeing such aggression and we're seeing such crazy behavior that we've never seen before," because their brains are changing atypically as well.

Gwen:

How new is that research?

Kristen:

2017.

Gwen:

Oh, wow.

Kristen:

And we need to see replication of these types of studies. There's really good solid evidence that's coming out of these studies, but we need to see that replicated over and over again for us to really know that that's what's happening. But we do know that there's a significant increase in mental health conditions that come online for our autistic adolescents many times over that of typically developing peers. So, a lot of times it's because they're socially aware or it's because of the chemical changes that are happening in their brain. Some of our kids have been identified in early childhood as being at risk for anxiety and depression, and then we see that really come online when things get more socially complex.

Gwen:

I didn't realize that they were finding differences in how the brain changes in the neurodivergent population.

Kristen:

Yeah. And I will go ahead and put some of these studies that I was researching in our show notes so that people can look at them at their leisure, because they're pretty complicated results.

Gwen:

Wait, hold on. Leisure?

Kristen:

Leisure.

Gwen:

Did you mean leisure?

Kristen:

Well, no, I meant leisure. But leisure, yes.

Gwen:

Oh, okay. I just wanted to make sure that everybody knew that that's the same word.

Kristen:

Okay. Thank you for that. Sometimes-

Gwen:

You're welcome. Yeah.

Kristen:

Sometimes I say things weirdly, I'm sorry.

Gwen:

Well, I think leisure is cute. And you haven't even mentioned the fact that a typically functioning teenager is coming out of their skin as their body changes.

Kristen:

Absolutely.

Gwen:

And so for our kids who already don't know what it feels like to live in their skin, the physical changes that they're experiencing, they don't know what to do with. There's hair that there wasn't there before. They're very honest about all the hair. They want to know about the hair. And it's a lot of places. Right?

Kristen:

Yeah. There's a lot of conversation about things changing that I think... One of the things that I saw that's kind of sad is that autistic youth are less likely to receive any sexual education at home or school. And so they're baffled by the changes in their body, and they're also more likely to struggle with hygiene.

Gwen:

Woo.

Kristen:

Do we know that.

Gwen:

And I think what I have been struck by is the need during puberty for our population to get that unbiased, factual information, answer all the questions clearly, concisely, and accurately. They need to know how the systems work, the why behind why there's, for example, hair under their armpits. It's not just like, "Hey, this is what happens." That's not enough for many of our kids. They want to know systemically, "What is happening? Why is it important? What does that mean? What do I have to do different?" It is so complex and nuanced, but they need it to not be nuanced. They need it to be very factual. I think we just realized that Rylan didn't understand why showering was necessary.

Kristen:

Yeah, And I think too, for my kids, they just didn't care. So saying, "People are going to think that you smell bad." Who cares? There wasn't a level of like... It's not just an awareness, it's a level of concern that's just not there.

Gwen:

Yeah. And I think that our talk with Becca, she talked about, "Well, I didn't shower. I didn't care." Well, okay. That was one of the things that I just had to sit with. Like, okay, I care so much.

But when I say to Rylan, "Well, it's nice for the people around you," he doesn't care, usually, about the people around him.

Kristen:

That logic does not fly.

Gwen:

No.

Kristen:

So you have to find some other kind of logic. And I think what was really hard for our family was puberty looked really different for each kid. Because of course, our kids are so different from each other. And for Graham, he had delayed puberty. So he really didn't even start until 18 with that third and fourth stage of puberty. So he was really small. He was really, really short compared to his peers, and underdeveloped. And then was totally uninterested in anything they had to say, because it wasn't about Nintendo or Smash Bros. or Pokémon. Which is still true to this day. However, he at least has an awareness and an understanding of why people are interested in those things. But when it was happening in high school, he just couldn't relate. Even the social skills group, like the peers group, that curriculum is all geared towards puberty. If anything about puberty came up, he had to leave the room, he was so distraught. He just couldn't listen to it.

Gwen:

Well, it was something that might happen to him, but it hadn't started yet. So that's very unknown.

Kristen:

It's abstract.

Gwen:

And it's very fearful. I remember Rylan was in fifth grade in the public school, and they did the full sexual education. So they talked about puberty, body changes from the male, the feminine perspective, and then they talked about the act of sex. And let me tell you, that kid at that point had no embarrassment about talking about these things. He was not anywhere close to being in puberty, but he thought that because they were teaching him about puberty, that he was full fledge in puberty.

Kristen:

Oh.

Gwen:

And told everyone he saw. "Well, I'm in puberty." I mean, the grocery store clerk. "Well, since I'm in puberty," he would say. And we couldn't convince him otherwise. Because why would they be teaching him about it if he wasn't in it?

Kristen:

Right.

Gwen:

So that started for us very early, the education piece. He had questions on every system, and you can imagine what those systems included. I mean, they were learning about semen and he had so many questions. I remember I was in the parking lot picking him up. I saw him from across the parking lot and he screamed, "Hey, Mom, it sounds to me like your fallopian tubes didn't work right. Right, Mom? Because you had to adopt me." Like screamed it across the parking lot.

And I was like, okay, here we go. So Gwen, put on your brave mom hat because we're going to talk about infertility here from a very factual lens. And boy, did we. We got home, he got a cup of tea, and he said, "This is what men do. They drink tea when they talk about puberty."

Kristen:

Oh.

Gwen:

And we did. For hours.

Kristen:

My goodness. He might even say leisure if he's...

Gwen:

It was a moment of leisure for him, and one that I just sat there like, "No, you are not producing semen when you pee. Next question."

Kristen:

Yeah. See-

Gwen:

It was intense.

Kristen:

Hayden was very much like that because he's such a biologist at heart, so he had a lot of like, "Wait a minute," and then he wanted to know all the details. But I don't think for our kids learning that in fifth or sixth grade, it just didn't stick. Our kids need to hear information over and over and over again. So one unit at the end of fifth grade was not going to cut it for our kids. And sometimes we have to be much more explicit than you would be in a classroom or in a unit that you're working on in school.

But Graham was very aware that he was having a delayed puberty and was in the car one day coming home from school. He was maybe a junior or senior in high school. And he said, "So, I'm in puberty now, right?" Yeah, he's like, "Do you like that? Does that make you happy?"

I was like, "Um. Sure. It does. It makes me happy."

He's like, "Yeah, it's okay that it was late though, right?" It's kind of like puberty flight delayed. It's just like that. Just like [inaudible 00:17:48].

Gwen:

Just like that. Just like that. Up in the sky.

Kristen:

Oh God.

Gwen:

It wasn't delayed for us. We are six two. But going back to what you said, how they can become totally different people. I mean, people who knew Rylan in middle school and meet him now, there's almost no semblance of that kid anymore. We have had to completely relearn him. He was the squeaky voiced... If he was in a room, you knew it within two seconds. He demanded attention in every space he was in. He had no fear of embarrassing himself or sticking out. When we launched our book, he was leading whole assemblies with hundreds of people and working the room with a mic.

And that kid... I don't have that kid anymore. And I don't know if that's the prefrontal cortex waking up and now he's self-aware. And we did that auditory listening therapy, and he became more self-aware. Which needed to happen. It's a good thing. But he is the quiet one in the room. He hates attention. He only talks if he has to. He has this low man mumbling voice now. I mean, you've heard him, listeners. But he is a radically different child as a result of puberty. We still love him and he still is amazing in all his ways, but I kind of am still in a state of whiplash a little bit. Like, oh shit, I had that kid figured out.

Kristen:

Yeah, absolutely.

Gwen:

And I feel like I'm starting over.

Kristen:

I feel like for Jameson, puberty was such an enormous turning point because that's when he started to really question his gender identity. Things became really socially challenging in late elementary, middle school, high school. Where he hadn't struggled so much before, he really struggled. Group texts were nearly the death of him. I finally had to just say, "You need to come off of group texts," because the amount of time that he was misunderstanding the dynamics of what was happening or misreading, it was so stressful for him. And on top of that, the gender identity stuff and not really feeling like a girl, but also not really feeling like a man. And so, non-binary for a while, and then moving on. And we'll have a whole conversation with him about his journey with gender because it deserves its own conversation. But it was such a huge player in his puberty experience and was so tied to his anxiety and self-harm and suicidality. It was just overwhelming.

And for Hayden, his OCD and Tourette's were so intense during those years, and the bullying and the social isolation was so intense. It was really hard. I think our kids, the pandemic was actually a bit of a relief for them.

Gwen:

Yeah. Yeah. Not for us.

Kristen:

Not for us.

Gwen:

But for them. Yeah. And when you're dealing with girls in puberty, which you had to deal with these things with Jameson as he was trying to figure out that the gender pieces for himself, you're dealing with getting your period. And that can be scary for girls who are neurodivergent, and the discomfort of having to wear the appropriate things for your period, which thank God they have solutions for that now. I highly recommend the period underwear. They even make underwear that have markings where you put a pad in there so that it can direct girls on what to do. But that whole piece, I didn't have to deal with. But I can't imagine the sensory.

Kristen:

Oh, the sensory. When you think about young girls and young women with autism that are non-vocal and more impacted cognitively, that whole process is so difficult and makes care for them at school and other places really challenging. The whole... I mean, masturbation. We could do a whole hour just on that and how to make it accessible for our kids and natural and appropriate. When they miss so many social clues and cues and dynamics anyway, when you add in that sexualized piece of their existence, which they have every right to, just as anybody else, but then you need to kind of get in there with them in that experience to some degree. And it varies depending on the kid, right?

Oh my goodness. Yeah. Making sure that you delineate like, this is a room where you can touch your private parts. This is a room in which you can't do that. And this is kind of how you do hygiene around that. It's a whole curriculum in itself that a lot of providers have to go through. And when the providers are the parents, it's doubly traumatic.

Gwen:

And if you're a single parent and you don't match the gender of your child, that gets even more uncomfortable. So, it's complicated. We see you out there, single parents who have to do this.

Kristen:

Even your own feelings about your sexuality are going to get triggered and come into play with how you are able to help your child develop healthy sexual identity and habits, if you feel uncomfortable with it or you have issues with it yourself. Whether it's cultural or religious or experiential, that's going to come into play. It's just so complicated.

And I feel like all the meds that were working, they're not working anymore. Or you're seeing these behaviors you've never seen. You have a child now who's engaging in aggressive behavior that never did before. It's a baffling time. A lot of kids end up being hospitalized because of their mental health challenges. But kids on all functioning levels of the spectrum end up in that scenario because families can't handle the level of aggression they're seeing or just unsafe behavior, because puberty and adolescence is a risk-taking time. But our kids struggle to know what that looks like on a good day with no hormones raging through their body.

Gwen:

And the risk-taking is healthy for a lot of kids, but for our kids, it's not necessarily healthy and it can be dangerous.

Kristen:

Right. Or as parents, we don't allow them to engage in healthy risk-taking behavior because we're afraid for them because our kids are more likely to be assaulted and abused, kids with autism. So we can be really afraid of that risk-taking and then maybe get in the way of some healthy opportunities. It's really hard to navigate, to know what's healthy and what's not.

Gwen:

And we are not ready for it.

Kristen:

Nope.

Gwen:

Period.

Kristen:

End of story.

Gwen:

I'm still not ready for it, and he's mostly through puberty at this point. Still not ready for it. Still trying to catch up with what is going on in his mind, because he's not as free with his thoughts. I mean, this is a kid who used to narrate his experiences nonstop. "Well, when I do this, it feels like this." Which is why we published the book. Because I was like, oh my gosh, I have to share this with the world. He has such a way of describing what it feels like to be him. And now I find myself looking at him like, what does it feel like to be you? I don't know. I don't know anymore.

And sometimes I can glean some insights. Like yesterday, we were having his burger to celebrate passing his driving test, which immediately turned into his fear about will I have to have my tonsils out? Which... We've never talked about that. He doesn't need his tonsils out. But somebody said it at school that they had their tonsils out. And so, we celebrated passing that driving test for about three minutes, and then it was the next fear of what's going to come next.

I take this little pack of question cards in my purse, and I took one out. I said, "Rylan, what gives you pleasure?" And then I had to say, "Well, first of all, what is pleasure?"

And he said, "Oh, it's like feeling excited and happy."

I said, "Great. What does that for you?"

And he said collecting things is what does that for him. Well, I wouldn't have been able to say that. I just thought he was going to say Pokémon, Minecraft, Dungeons & Dragons. But it's not. It's collecting things. So that's the collecting of the Pokémon cards, and it's the collecting of the minifigs for D&D. It's collecting his postcards and his turtles. And so, now I've been able to shift my conversations with him to more about the collecting aspect. And I can see him lighting up. But he doesn't share that anymore. I have to dig for it. So, we just don't know our kids like we think we do.

Kristen:

Right. Which to some degree I think is part of the process of adolescence. Nobody knows their teens like they used to, but for us, it just, once again, just has an intensity level because they still need a level of support that their typical peers don't. So we can't separate in the same way. We still have to be involved in some of these more delicate types of situations and conversations.

Gwen:

Yeah. That's a good way of putting it. We really can't separate. Like with our daughter, she's full on separate.

Kristen:

Doing that herself.

Gwen:

Yep. Thirteen going on done with puberty. And we're trying not to fight that and let it happen, which is so hard in its own ways. But with him, he's not wanting the separation, first of all.

Kristen:

No, our kids don't either.

Gwen:

We're trying to make him have some separation while also keeping him close.

Kristen:

Right.

Gwen:

It's exhausting.

Kristen:

It is. It is exhausting. We're both just staring into space right now, listeners.

Gwen:

We are staring into space. You were talking about Graham and dating, and it's funny because Rylan has had no interest. Sexually, dating, nothing. But when he was younger, pre-puberty, he had two girls that he really did genuinely adore and had crushes on, and one of them was mutual, and it was the cutest thing. And that kind of faded away when we moved, but we haven't heard anything since. He's the kid that will be like, I'll say, "Hey, Ry, that girl's so pretty. And she said hi to you."

"Mom. I am not ready to date her." We can't even talk about a girl being cute because he thinks that means he wants to date her, which I think he also, God bless him, means that he will date her. I don't know that he sees the mutuality of the dating relationship.

So we were talking about... Because Reagan of course has a boyfriend. And we were talking about them at dinner, and he goes, "Not me. I don't have a girlfriend."

We're like, "Yeah, we know. That's okay. But you're allowed to have crushes."

And then he finally said, "You know, Mom, if I wasn't so nervous about being made fun of, I might actually want a girlfriend."

Kristen:

It's a little insight.

Gwen:

Yeah. And we just kind of dug into that more, and by the end of dinner, he decided he was ready to have a girlfriend.

Kristen:

Look at that.

Gwen:

Look at that. What am I supposed to do with that?

Kristen:

I'm thinking about a lot of Rylan's experiences the past year or two, and I'm thinking about Graham in particular's experiences in high school, where they... Because things have become socially more complex, they're being bullied in such a... There's all these social aggressions happening that teachers are missing because our kids are missing them. So they're being taken advantage of because they don't understand. They think that people are being nice to them when they're making fun of them. They don't see it. But on some level, they know it. And I think that's where they start to determine, oh, I can't be okay in life. I can't grow up. Graham had a huge fear of growing up because I think he saw that he was being made fun of and bullied, but he didn't know how exactly, or why.

Gwen:

Or why.

Kristen:

Or why. And so couldn't report it because he wouldn't even know how to articulate it. I know that you've witnessed it with Rylan, with him being bullied without realizing it. It's every autism mom's worst nightmare watching them be bullied when they don't even realize it.

Gwen:

And heartbreak.

Kristen:

Mm-hmm. It is heartbreak. But I think that's where they start to learn that they can't have the things that their typical peers have. Like, I can't get married. I can't be a dad.

Gwen:

Or they are afraid to. They're just afraid to. I think that's what we learned was he is holding back so much that he really could be enjoying and exploring, because he's trying to just stay under the radar. And that pisses me off, but I also have to give him the respect to want that for himself, to stay under the radar. I don't want to push him into liking a girl and then getting made fun of it and never wanting to like a girl again.

Kristen:

In a lot of ways, our boys have always shown us that when they're ready for something, they will totally make it happen. They don't need us to do that for them. And we seem to not be able to learn that lesson very well.

Gwen:

I know. I know.

Kristen:

I have to remind myself, Graham always shows up and just crushes it when he's ready. And he needs more time to just be our son and to be an in-between, to be a teen a little longer, even though he's 20, until his prefrontal cortex catches up and-

Gwen:

Or until they meet somebody that they're actually like, oh, I really like spending time with this person.

Kristen:

You'd have to leave your room to do that, though.

Gwen:

You would. But he is.

Kristen:

But he is.

Gwen:

He's leaving his room.

Kristen:

Yes, he is.

Gwen:

Maybe not like every quarter of the day, but it's fine.

Kristen:

It's all good.

Gwen:

It's all good. I feel tired and I don't feel like we really even scratched the surface of this topic, but I also want to be so mindful of our kids' dignity and not sharing stories that they wouldn't want shared, which are going to be, at this point in their life, 90% of them.

Kristen:

Yeah.

Gwen:

We just want you, our listeners, to know that if you're living this or if this is in your future or if this is behind you, good job, you made it. There's just a lot of nuance behind it, and we want you to know that we see you. We're feeling it, we're living it, and we don't know what we're doing either. But hopefully, we have at least shed a little insight into what's coming so that you can normalize just how abnormal you're going to feel.

Kristen:

Yeah. It's such a freaky time that if we've done nothing else but made you chuckle a little bit and then made you remember that you're not alone and that this is what happens, I think the normalization is huge.

Gwen:

And that your kids just need that much more patience and love and support. Because if it's hard for us, you can't imagine how hard it is for their bodies trying to figure it all out.

Kristen:

Yeah. And someday, more days than others, they will put [inaudible 00:35:02]. Someday...

Gwen:

If it's a part of a checklist routine that they have to mark off.

Kristen:

That's right.

Gwen:

On the dry erase board.

Kristen:

Exactly. Exactly.

Gwen:

Thanks for listening. We're going to hand it over to our kids.

Reagan:

We know, our moms are amazing. But they don't know everything. We think that you deserve to hear from the real experts, their kids. Woo-hoo! We believe in nothing about us without us. So here it is, The Last Word.

Kristen:

Hi, Graham.

Graham:

Hey.

Kristen:

So today, Gwen and I were talking about puberty and how hard it is growing up when you're autistic.

Graham:

Ooh, that's a good one.

Kristen:

Isn't that a good one? And I was thinking, God, I'd love to hear your thoughts on what is so hard about being a teenager when you're autistic.

Graham:

Well, if you had to tell me, I would have to say definitely the expectations people have for you as soon as you hit your teenager area. What I mean is that when you're 10 or 11, 12, you don't have as much expectations because you know you're still growing, you're still learning stuff. As soon as you hit your teenager years, it feels like you start to realize that you need to know this stuff because people have these expectations for you. You got to know what's right and wrong. That, hey, you're thinking of doing your driver's license, you're thinking of doing your rest of your high school.

Kristen:

And college. And then do you feel bad if you're not ready for those things?

Graham:

I can see people feeling bad if they're not ready because they feel like they're doing something that they're not supposed to do, and they feel like it's their fault.

Kristen:

How about you? How did you feel?

Graham:

Me personally, when I felt like I needed to start [inaudible 00:36:55] this change, I started to panic a little bit, but then I wanted to stop and think about how am I going to plan this out? What do I do first? What do I then do when I start mastering the previous segment? And just, if I can give advice to parents with autistic teenagers, I'd say definitely give them some kind of roadmap. Possibly if they wanted to start [inaudible 00:37:18] their driver's ed, and then when they feel comfortable getting their driver's license and start college, then... Just give them some kind of structure so they know what stages of their teenager years that they need to start with.

Kristen:

Okay. And then paying attention to whether or not they're ready for it.

Graham:

Yeah. And then when they feel comfortable with it, have the parents tell them, are you comfortable enough to start college now? And if they would say, "Yeah, I feel comfortable," then great for them. And if not, then don't judge them if they say no, if they don't feel they're right, accept that.

Kristen:

Okay. So now that you're 20, what do you feel ready for?

Graham:

I feel ready for the driver's license.

Kristen:

Yeah? A driver's license. That's a great one.

Graham:

Yeah. No, I feel like I'm comfortable enough to start doing the driver's ed.

Kristen:

What do you think about relationships? Where do you feel you fall in that area?

Graham:

For me, relationships really depend on how you feel. Don't always think about the partner. Think about yourself too. Like, do I feel comfortable enough to start, but really think to myself, I am ready to have a partner of some kind. And I say, don't rush it, don't rush it, because that eventually can lead to bad things in a relationship like you feel like you don't really feel comfortable with this person, and that can lead to issues. So I say, if I had to summarize it, think about not just the partner, but think about yourself and how you feel about the relationship.

Kristen:

Yeah. And do you think you're ready for a relationship or you're still...

Graham:

I'm still focusing on the driver's ed for now, but then when I start getting the educational part down, I feel like I'll then be ready to start looking for a partner of my own.

Kristen:

That's great. Thanks for sharing your feelings.

Graham:

No problem. And I hope you have a good rest of your day.

Kristen:

Thanks.

Gwen:

So we are here with the newest driving member of the Vogelzang family. Rylan Vogelzang.

Rylan:

Oh.

Gwen:

Oh. Is that how you feel about having a driver's license?

Rylan:

Yeah, I'm kind of over it.

Gwen:

You're kind of over it?

Rylan:

I don't know.

Gwen:

Rylan, it happened yesterday.

Rylan:

I know.

Gwen:

Okay. Well, I'm not over it, so I'm going to continue to celebrate and sing songs about it.

Rylan:

I know it's... Now I have to drive everywhere, and I don't know how I feel about that.

Gwen:

Yeah. So the anxiety is still there, even though you have the license, right?

Rylan:

Yes.

Gwen:

Yeah.

Rylan:

Driving is anxiety-inducing.

Gwen:

Okay. I mean, I understand, so we're going to take it one baby step at a time, right? I told our listeners already that I'm going to follow you in the car to your work today. Don't you feel like that's a good step?

Rylan:

Yeah.

Gwen:

Okay. Okay. We're going to move on, because we need some valuable information from you. We talked about today, growing up. Puberty, being a teenager, we would love to hear from you something that you find challenging, difficult about that process.

Rylan:

A lot more stuff to do to clean yourself up and whatnot.

Gwen:

Oh, that is definitely true. Talk a little bit more about that.

Rylan:

Like shaving, having to take extra showers. Ug.

Gwen:

Shaving, extra showers. So, do you have a hard time understanding why you need to do those things?

Rylan:

No.

Gwen:

You understand why?

Rylan:

I just don't like doing them.

Gwen:

Oh, okay. Why do you have to shave?

Rylan:

I think mustaches are cool. I don't know about you, but...

Gwen:

I'm sorry. Did you just say, "I think mustaches are cool"?

Rylan:

I don't know. Some people think [inaudible 00:41:06]. I don't know.

Gwen:

Okay. Is this your way of telling me that you want to have a mustache?

Rylan:

I don't know.

Gwen:

Oh, God bless me.

Rylan:

Okay.

Gwen:

Okay.

Rylan:

Maybe [inaudible 00:41:16].

Gwen:

We'll talk about that offline. Offline. No, I love this conversation. I learn something new about you every time we do this.

Rylan:

Hey.

Gwen:

Let's move on. Is there anything else that's difficult? Because you're definitely right. There's more hygiene. Shaving, showering, all the things. Is there anything else that's been difficult about growing up?

Rylan:

Being more socially aware, what people think.

Gwen:

Yeah. You've definitely become more socially aware, haven't you?

Rylan:

Mm-hmm.

Gwen:

And why is that hard?

Rylan:

Thinking up the worst possible scenarios.

Gwen:

We talked last night about dating even, and I was surprised to hear that you kind of think about dating as like you could get made fun of. Right?

Rylan:

Mm-hmm.

Gwen:

And so do you think that that prevents you from doing a lot of things?

Rylan:

Mm-hmm.

Gwen:

Because you're afraid you'll get teased?

Rylan:

Mm-hmm.

Gwen:

You see that a lot in high school, people getting teased?

Rylan:

I don't know. It's just something I want to avoid.

Gwen:

Yeah, that makes sense. Because you used to kind of want to be the life of the party in the room, right? And now that you're more socially aware, you tend to be more quiet. What do you do to get through that?

Rylan:

Just keep to myself.

Gwen:

Yeah. That kind of makes me sad. You know that, right? I want you to just be your vibrant self everywhere and not care what people think. Is that easier said than done, you think?

Rylan:

Just hope next year will be better.

Gwen:

Better like more confidence?

Rylan:

No, like people more nicer, I guess.

Gwen:

People more nice.

Rylan:

Yeah.

Gwen:

Yeah. I hope so too, buddy. You are going to be a senior.

Rylan:

Gosh.

Gwen:

And you're joining that belonging group, right? For the district, of students who care about everybody fitting in and having a voice.

Rylan:

Yeah.

Gwen:

Those are the kind of things that you got to get involved in. Find your nice people.

Rylan:

Yeah.

Gwen:

Yeah. Anything else?

Rylan:

I don't know.

Gwen:

All right. Thanks Ry. Appreciate you, buddy.

Rylan:

Yeah.

Gwen:

Congratulations.

Rylan:

Mm-hmm.

Gwen:

Okay, let's go drive

Rylan:

Right now?

Gwen:

Thanks for joining us for this episode of You Don't Want a Hug, Right? We'd sure appreciate it if you'd subscribe to our show in your favorite podcast app. And if you want to win Listener of the Month, you can rate and review the show, preferably with five stars.

Kristen:

If you'd like to stay up on all our happenings, resources and bonus material, join our newsletter at youdontwantahug.com.

Gwen:

Remember, even the best caretakers make panic rooms out of their closets. No judgment here, friends. So shoulders back, double chins up. We are all in this together.





44 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page