Autism spectrum disorder is a condition whereby your brain works in a different way from other people. It affects how a person thinks, feels, interacts with others, and experiences their environment. For a brief overview on understanding autism, read more here.
Autism is not an illness or a disease and is something that people are born with. If you are autistic, you will be autistic for your whole life and people with autism can live full lives. Like everyone, autistic people have things that they are good at and other things they need more help with.
Everyone with autism is different — some people might need little support or no support and others might need help from a parent or carer every day. Autism is a spectrum. The most widely used title for Autism is Autism Spectrum Disorder and a person will fit somewhere on a wide spectrum.
At FLUX Undies, as a totally inclusive team, we aim to make sure every person on the planet can access our products. That’s regardless of their race, colour, gender, religion, ability, sexuality, identity, or anything else!
One part of society that sometimes find it difficult to access information around periods are people on the Autistic spectrum. We have had quite a few emails from this sector of our community about how periods can be managed with our pants, periods and autism in general, so we hope this blog helps to cover some of your question on autism and periods.
We're lucky enough to be teaming up with Norma, a new addition to our fast growing team, who has personal experience with Autism. Norma is very pleased to be able to share her experience of understanding (or not understanding as the case may be) periods back in her early days, and the following is a story of personal experience on dealing with periods and autism, from Norma.
Norma's Experience of Autism and Periods
My name is Norma and I am a 49 year old woman with Autism. Over the years, I have had to overcome quite a few obstacles and hurdles while on my journey of understanding my autism. I have never resented or felt things should have been any other way though and everything now makes perfect sense in a very harmonious way.
My very young days were a challenge with many physical and emotional deficits. I had difficulties with verbalising my needs, understanding what was being said, literal thinking and auditory processing difficulties (all of which I still suffer with, only much less). When I was younger I had very unusual eye contact, poor balance skills, body perception, major sensory issues and I’m afraid the list of deficits does go on.
There were many issues that really made life with autism difficult for me. One of the main ones was that there was no recognition of the wide autistic spectrum back in the 80s and people that were not non-verbal or who didn't present as being 'typically' autistic, were not acknowledged or recognised.
Back when I was a child, I felt I was trapped in a bubble of confusion and I thought I was weird, mad, and in fact a fraud as I spent most of my time trying to copy people to fit in. I absolutely didn’t understand how to be social and it was obvious to others that there was something quite different about me. I felt the most safe when I was alone and indoors, which was where I spent all of my time whenever possible.
On a more positive note, I was very able in school and learned best by being seated at the back of the class away from the noise, and by a hazy window.
Physically I had a weak body, poor muscle tone, and flexible joints. I also had quite a restricted diet and as a result was extremely underweight, and I'd guess very lacking in nutrients and vitamins.
Being a child of the 70s and 80s, education around menstruation was not something we learned and I wasn’t even aware of periods until one of the students in my primary school started her period around age 10.
Once I finally found out what periods were, I knew what the blood stains I’d seen on multiple occasions on my mothers nightdress actually was - period blood. As an adult, I now know the period leakages I regularly saw on my mother’s nightclothes were due to my mother experiencing period poverty, and often not having the money to buy any pads.
Periods were not something I felt I could speak to my mother about, there was virtually no useful sex education in school and I had no older siblings — so periods were not something I could learn about. It was a fear of the unknown, and a dread of the day I’d be wearing a HUGE nappy sized pad like the ones I'd seen hidden in the back of my mother’s underwear drawer (when she had the money to buy them).
I’d wondered what the stomach pain was like that I’d heard girls at school talk about. How much blood comes out? Do we still wee on our period? How many days do they come for? Are periods painful? The list of worries was endless.
On starting secondary school I had the Autism transition to face and all the major chaos that caused me, as well as starting to enter puberty.
As luck should have it, I had been fortunate enough to be able to come across and keep a copy of a book about a girl who was going through puberty and was eagerly awaiting the appearance of her first period. The book was by Judy Blume, titled “Are you there God? It’s me Margaret’. So eager was Margaret that she’d beg her higher power to grant her the onset of her period as soon as possible!
It was around the age of 12 or 13 that I realised a lot of my small pool of acquaintances had started their periods (I refer to them as acquaintances rather than friends as I believe they kindly tolerated me rather than genuinely wanting me around them).
My period did not put in an appearance any time soon and I was in fact fifteen and three quarters before I finally had my first period! I watched two of my younger sisters start theirs before me and really did start to think something was wrong with me when it was not happening.
My journey into adulthood felt like it had finally begun and the roller coaster of menstruation, along with all my Autism deficits, including my massive sensory problems was about to take off!
I was delighted to be able to finally have the worry of sourcing period pads. I felt none of the shame a lot of my peers had spoke of when buying them and was actually very relieved to be part of the period conversation and ‘normal’. My first couple of periods were uneventful and I was actually disappointed that there was so little blood, no belly ache and actually wondered whether it was periods I was having or just a brown discharge.
Once a couple of months had passed, my periods commenced regularly and heavier. It was nothing I could not handle physically but mentally it was quite exhausting. I have extremely poor organisational skills and remembering to have a supply of pads each month was something I found very difficult. I’d often forget my period was due until it started and there would be no money to buy pads.
When I did have pads on, I’d forget to change them until I’d leaked. I have many stories I could write about the leaky situations I found myself in with periods and my chaotic unmanaged autistic ways. Also, suffering with sensory issues, I always found the feeling of pads against my skin very strange and struggled to ever feel comfortable whilst wearing them.
If I were to summarise my periods in my early menstruation years back in the 80s I’d have to say they were a challenge, but nowhere near as challenging as were my communication difficulties. I am now entering my menopause and never thought I’d actually be saying this but I think I may actually miss their presence each month! Having a product like period pants available to me back then would have been a huge blessing and I'm glad that they are available to autistic people now.
Thanks for your interest in my guest blog and I hope you got a bit of an insight into how my Autism and periods affected me!
5 Tips on Managing Autism and Periods
We hope you enjoyed our guest Blogger, Norma. On speaking further with Norma, FLUX Undies are able to share 5 tips on managing Autism and periods that may be useful.
1. Being able to access comfortable and simple period protection like period pants would have made Norma’s periods much easier and improve her confidence and comfort on her period. After speaking with Norma and looking into autism and periods, it is clear that sensory issues have a huge part to play and the feeling of shifting sanitary towels is often uncomfortable and irritating to wear. Leaking through sanitary towels is also often a worry alongside the constant need to remember to change them.
Having period pants would have meant there’d have been period protection available to wear and reuse especially when money was tight and she could not afford to keep buying sanitary towels each month. You can shop our whole range of comfortable period pants here and find out more about our giving back scheme, where we donate to young people in need, here.
2. Having a visual map of puberty and a visual chart of when Norma's period was due would have been so useful. Advice on how to use period protection correctly and the need to change them on time would have helped Norma a lot. Using visual reminders, charts and diagrams is a great tool for people that have autism as often it is easier to take in and retain information this way.
3. On site school groups, information or classes are great resources and learning tools for people with Autism. School programmes such as City to Sea's 'Rethink Periods' project aims to educate school staff members on how to encourage sustainable periods, managing periods, what different products are available and lots of other invaluable menstrual health advice. These programmes also include demo boxes filled with many different types of period products, including disposable products like pads and tampons, reusable cloth pads, menstrual cups, reusable tampon applicators and of course period pants.
FLUX Undies donate many of our much loved period boy shorts to City to Sea and are used in the demo boxes that are shown to school aged children. These types of presentations that have visuals and actual examples of the products that you need are brilliant for people like Norma, and the visual learning would help many autistic people. Find out more about City to Sea's Rethink Period Project here.
4. Books are a great way to read and learn information around topics like menstruation. A good read we would recommend for people with autism that are starting their period and wanting to learn all about them is Period by Natalie Byrne.
Natalie was one of the first UK authors to write a book solely around periods and include period pants in a book. And of course, being the first period pants to hit stores in the UK, FLUX Undies is in there! Get a copy of Periods here.
Another great book for people with Autism that are starting their period is The Autism Friendly Guide to Periods, written by Robyn Steward, from her personal experience of having autism and periods. You can get a copy here.
5. Finally, having access to the internet would have been brilliant for Norma. The internet is an amazing resource that we can never take for granted. For any one living with autism or with any other difficulties, there are great resources online and a quick google search will bring up lots of great advice, visuals, information and studies that can really help those looking for ways to manage their periods and autism.
For any further advice or help on anything around Autism, please visit autism.org.uk