The Perils of Puberty

Katie, May 2005.

Katie, May 2005.

I can’t ignore it any longer. My eleven-year-old daughter Katie has entered puberty. My sweet, helpful little girl has been replaced with a crabby, mercurial pre-teen who litters the floor with discarded possessions, eats nonstop, snaps at me, argues about clothes, and no longer says please or thank you. Constantly hungry, she demands that I feed her round-the-clock. The child who eagerly helped with housework now often refuses when I ask and would rather play with her iPad than with me.

She insists that I give her what she wants when she wants it, and pitches a fit when she doesn’t get her way. She is stubborn and willful and angry. Plus her sensory needs have escalated dramatically. Swinging for 20 minutes once per day is no longer enough. Sometimes we visit the park two or even three times per day. She begs to go to the fair, the zoo, Marine World—or any place with carnival rides—with the insistency of a drug addict seeking a fix.

In short, Katie is a total handful in a bigger, less controllable package.

Given that Katie is an only child, I often don’t know exactly where the autism ends and neuro-typical behavior begins. I sure some of this is normal for a preteen girl, but what and how much?

As I’ve learned over the years, I need to parent my bright but barely verbal autistic daughter in a different manner than I would parent another, more typical child. Katie and I had things pretty well sorted out the last few years. After lots of hard work (on both our parts), I was really enjoying her company and thrilled with her emerging independence. I mistakenly thought we had reached a stable place.

I’m a little at a loss as to how to deal with this “new and improved” version of my child. On the one hand, she can handle things she never could in the past. On the other, she flies into a rage over a simple no. And don’t get me started on the clothes. The clothes are strewn everywhere; her jacket and iPad perpetually “missing.”

What’s a mom to do?

Fortunately I have good resources at my disposal. Katie’s in-home behaviorists are excellent and I have a network of parents I can contact, including three moms of autistic daughters. Autism A to Z, the nonprofit organization that I founded, is hosting parent support groups and will be offering workshops soon. My college roommate told me about The Body Book to help illustrate the changes Katie will undergo

Dive inI have more experience and better resources than I did when I began the autism journey. Yet in some ways I feel that I am starting over. Perhaps I am. Maybe this is true of all parents when their child begins to leave childhood behind. It certainly seems true for me. Regardless, Katie and I have no control over what’s looming on the horizon. We will simply have to deal with whatever issues arise.

Pray for me, people. I’m diving into the deep end of parenting.

Until next time,


About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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