Autism and Periods

Periods present challenges on many different levels. It is very important to recognise the complex interactions that periods can have for neurodivergent folk.

The unpredictability of periods can pose a sense of dread and lack of control for a person without an established menstrual cycle.

Information below may be useful to consider.

Summary of key points

The way we feel things in our body – can be triggered by the physical sensations of the premenstrual stage and also at the point of ovulation – bloating, constipation, pain, breast pain. It can be useful to track a menstrual cycle and to be able to identify how these experiences are connected to a period. Additionally, during a period, folk may feel ‘unclean’ and vulnerable to leaks of everyone ‘knowing’.

Menstrual cycles can enhance or diminish a sense of smell : people can feel that they smell during a period. This can also be an issue where the sensory experience of bathing or showering is a difficulty.

Not knowing when a period may start can cause a great deal of anxiety for someone who does not have a predictable or established cycle. Additionally  ensuring that period products are available, used and changed at an appropriate point can be challenging for those who have difficulties in this area

The changes in hormones have an impact on the mood of many people: hormonal fluctuations for Neurodivergent people can have a profound impact and can be debilitating. It is worth noting that PMDD (PMDD basics) might be at play.

Periods vary from person to person, but a common factor is that they require ‘practical intervention’ in most cases in terms of sanitary protection – sanitary towels, tampons, period pants, menstrual cups etc. in some environments outside of the home – schools and workplaces – access to private facilities to change these products is vital. When sensory experiences necessitate more frequent changes, this should not be prevented. It is very important that in schools where access to toilets is limited by policy, that the needs of neurodivergent pupils is clearly understood and supported.

There is an increasingly varied range of products available, and many neurodivergent people prefer the experience offered by reusable products, particularly period pants and reusable pads. This may be due to the feeling of fabric rather than disposable products, the ease of use, the environmental factors, the lack of ‘noise’ when using or changing products. There are many options available for period pants including high street shops as well as specialist manufacturers. It might be worth shopping around for specific styles of underwear – the range is extensive, including more masculine styles.

What can help?

A positive and open approach to experiences of periods is vital within the home, school and workplace – it is very important that periods are recognised as impactful as well as a normal experience for those assigned female at birth.

For young people, the following book has been highly recommended – it is written by an autistic author and is designed to support dealing with periods.

The Autism Friendly Guide to Periods – Robyn Steward

The autism friendly guide to periods

Other issues to consider

It is possible to manage periods with the contraceptive pill – it may be worth discussing this with a helpful and informed GP. A prescribed pill can overcome issues related to unpredictability and help a younger person learn to manage the experience of periods better even if it is not being used for contraceptive purposes.

There is new evidence to link Endometriosis with the range of other physical experiences and conditions associated with neurodivergence – if you or a young person experiences any of the symptoms of endometriosis, then this could perhaps be explored in collaboration with your GP What is endometriosis? | Endometriosis UK