People with autism 'take five times as long' to learn to manage their periods

Learning to manage periods is tricky for everyone when they first begin, from how long you should leave it before changing a pad or tampon to preventing leaks and experiencing cramps.

A new report commissioned by intimate wellness brand Intimina for Autism Awareness Week has found the process is considerably longer for those with autism.

The brand wants to illuminate how those on the autistic spectrum experience their period and the difficulties they face.

Nearly a third of autistic people take four to five years to learn to manage their period, compared to just one year for 38% of neurotypical people.

Over half of those on the autism spectrum don’t feel confident talking to close friends or family about their period and 16% have self-educated when it comes to periods.

Almost half of autistic people admit to not understanding their period and an overwhelming 83% said they find period products difficult to use.

Many feel unheard and uninformed, and though conversation around periods have become normalised in some contexts in recent years, in neurodivergent settings they have not.

The reasons as to why autistic people might experience periods differently vary, but research suggests it could relate to the how senses are experienced, along with the person’s mental health and communication style.

For Sarah Jane Bellwood, 54, it’s simply a case of how her memory works.

‘The worst was that the periods took me by surprise every single time,’ she says.

‘I never once remembered when it was going to arrive, so the first I ever knew about it was the flooding of my clothes with blood.

‘I never could remember to carry pads and tampons. Not once. I felt feckless, disorganised and stupid that I couldn’t remember or organise myself.’

The sense of shame is a recurring issue.

With the sense of scent for example, 70% said they experience hyporeactivity to the smell of menstrual products, and over a quarter say ‘odours’ are a key issue they come up against while on their period.

Wren Little, 28-year-old with autism, says: ‘I’m very hypersensitive generally, so when I’m on my period I can smell it and it stresses me out even though I’ve been assured there’s no smell.

‘It just makes me very self conscious.’

Almost all participants in the study said that they experience emotional changes during a period – 38% say it’s one of their main worries just before a period comes on.

Psychotherapist Steph Jones, who has autism, says: ‘Those on the autism spectrum might struggle to talk about periods because they feel ashamed, or it might be connected to the social challenges experienced by many autistic people.

‘For example, not asking for help because it leaves individuals open to the possibility of being dismissed, humiliated or invalidated.

‘It’s also extremely common to experience some feelings of depression and anxiety just before a period starts.

‘To help with this I would recommend keeping track of moods to determine whether they seem related to hormonal changes or reveal an underlying issue.

‘Tracking will also help reduce the anxiety of not knowing when you are due to start your period. An easy way to track is to note it down in a journal or use an app to follow your cycle.’

Greater inclusivity and education is needed around periods to cater for our neurodiverse society.

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