5 Ways Puberty Can Affect Kids Who Learn and Think Differently

By Peg Rosen
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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. Same 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: Kids with executive functioning issues may not always remember to shower regularly or put on deodorant. Some kids 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, which has many subtle and not-so-subtle rules and messages, may be particularly confusing.

What may happen: Kids who have trouble with impulse control may be too aggressive in sexual situations. Others may have trouble putting off sexual urges in public situations. Some kids with social skills issues 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. Learn about steps you can take 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 with executive functioning issues.

  • The way kids react to the changes of puberty can affect their social life.

About the Author

About the Author

Peg Rosen 

writes for digital and print, including ParentCenter, WebMD, Parents, Good Housekeeping, and Martha Stewart.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Bob Cunningham, EdM 

serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.

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