5 Ways Puberty Can Affect Kids Who Learn and Think Differently

At a glance

  • Puberty isn’t physically different for kids who learn and think differently.

  • Some learning and thinking differences can make dealing with the changes of puberty harder.

  • Kids may feel “doubly different” when going through puberty.

Puberty isn’t physically different for kids who learn and think differently. But the bodily and emotional changes that come with it can be harder for some to handle. Here’s why.

1. Old behaviors may spark new reactions.

In fifth grade, classmates might put up with a kid who’s overly touchy or constantly interrupting. But this may not be the case as teens become more body conscious and start having more emotional and involved conversations.

What may happen: Kids may be rejected by friends who now consider them to be “immature” or “annoying.” They may try to create friendships in negative ways like spreading gossip or engaging in risky behavior like drinking alcohol. Their eagerness for acceptance may make them a target for humiliation or bullying.

2. Body changes may mean medication changes.

Puberty often brings on weight gain, which can impact the effectiveness of ADHD medication. It can also be a time of great brain development. Some kids may even see their symptoms lessen or change.

What may happen: If kids put on significant weight or height, their doctor may need to raise their dosage. If their symptoms lessen, the doctor may lower it.

“Sexual feelings and activity may be particularly confusing for some kids who learn and think differently.”

3. Kids may need help with hygiene.

Puberty’s hormonal changes make kids hairier, sweatier, and all-around more “fragrant.”

What may happen: Some kids may not always remember to shower regularly or put on deodorant. Or they may not have the self-awareness to realize that people care about how they smell or look.

4. Sexual activity may be extra confusing.

The same challenges that make it hard to learn at school can make it hard for kids to understand the changes taking place in their body. Sexual feelings and activity have many subtle and not-so-subtle rules and messages. And that may be extra confusing.

What may happen: Kids who have trouble with self-control may be too aggressive in sexual situations. Others may have trouble putting off sexual urges in public situations.

Kids who struggle socially may not accurately perceive other people’s interest in them. Or they may not express their own interest appropriately. And some kids are so scared by their sexual feelings that they avoid dating or sexual activity altogether.

5. Feeling doubly different.

Many kids play down feelings of insecurity during puberty by trying their best to blend in. Learning and thinking differences give kids one more thing to feel different about.

What may happen: To avoid standing out, kids may not ask for help in class. They may refuse to take their medication, especially if it requires a trip to the nurse’s office. Not all kids try to hide, though. Some become the class clown to mask their insecurity.

Keeping communication open with your child is important during this challenging time of life. At the same time, it’s important to respect your child’s need for privacy. That’s why it’s important to strike a healthy balance.

Key takeaways

  • Some kids may find sexual feelings and activity extra confusing, and behave inappropriately.

  • Keeping up with daily hygiene may be challenging for some kids.

  • Try to keep lines of communication open while still respecting your child’s privacy.

About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Bob Cunningham, EdM has been part of Understood since its founding. He’s also been the chief administrator for several independent schools and a school leader in general and special education.