When a menstrual Emoji was added to the list of official Emojis in 2019, it triggered heated discussions. This emoji was intended to encourage girls and women as well as people with uterus to handle their periods confidently and naturally.
In the commentary columns and social media, many users indignantly demanded the removal of the little red drop of blood. They saw no need to talk about something like menstruation.
Is menstruation still a taboo?
This resistance only reinforces the shame that many still associate with their menstruation. Secretly, tampons and bandages are passed around and the question whether one has one’s period is still considered by some men as an appropriate reaction to a woman’s unpleasant behaviour.
So this topic is difficult and challenging even for non-autistic women. Not everyone is aware of the exact details of menstruation, hormonal changes and symptoms. There are still questions about what exactly happens in the body.
For non-autistic people it is easier to find someone they can talk to. Autistic people have difficulties communicating and do not always know how and where to get information, how to have sensitive conversations and which social rules apply.
On the other hand, physical processes that are so complex and symptomatic can be overwhelming. Something completely new happens, something that is beyond one’s control and forces new, externally determined routines and rules on life. In this state conversations are even more challenging.
Female autism is different
The perception of Autism has been from a male perspective for a long time. It was assumed that significantly more men than women are autistic – a misconception that is only slowly being corrected. The understanding of autism and thus also, for example, diagnostic criteria, offers of help, (specialist) literature and advice books for those affected have been aligned accordingly. Autism in women, however, does not always manifest itself in the same way as in boys and men. It can be more subtle. Women may be better at hiding many symptoms. For example, their social difficulties are misinterpreted as shyness and introversion, and their special interests are taken less seriously. Books that deal specifically with the reality of life for autistic women have not been available for a long time. This only changed in recent years.
British author Robyn Steward published the book „The Autism Friendly Guide to periods“ in February 2019. Unfortunately, it is only available in English, but she has an easily accessible style of writing. For 10 years now, she has been organising courses on autism and disability for schools, universities, parents‘ groups, children and professionals. In 2013 her first book „The Independent Woman’s Handbook for Super Safe Living on the Autistic Spectrum“ was published.
Not only for women
„The Autism Friendly Guide to periods“ with 96 illustrated and illustrated pages is aimed primarily at 9-16 year old autistic women with and without uterus. But the book is also instructive for parents, caregivers and educators, and its way of conveying information is eye-opening.
Robyn Steward knows from her own experience that autistic people often need much more information to understand something. It is also important for them to receive differentiated information. This becomes clear for example on page 18, where the author explains the female anatomy: „The ovaries are where eggs grow. These eggs are very tiny. They are not like chicken eggs.“
The Ovaries are where eggs grow. These eggs are very tiny. They are not like chicken eggs.
Neurotypical people may find this amusing or unnecessary. Autistic people who have a strong visual sense and take things very literally can be irritated by the word „eggs“ – especially if they are not yet sufficiently informed.
For many years as a child, I believed that tampons were carried in the hand and that women looked at their hands in search of the blue ribbon. Why? Because the TV commercials in the 90s showed a woman closing her hand around a tampon, saying the tampon picks up the period where it happens. My autistic brain concluded that women menstruate with their hands.
Detailed information gives certainty.
The author also explains terms that do not immediately produce images in the brain in a very understandable way. A cycle, she writes, is a pattern of recurring events. A menstrual cycle is therefore a pattern of recurring events during menstruation. Patterns play a special role in the lives of autistic people. They need them in the form of structures and rituals in order to find their way around in everyday life and they have a better developed ability to recognize patterns of various kinds. This is one of the reasons why people with autism are often employed in IT jobs – it is assumed they are able to detect errors in software code faster because they deviate from the pattern of the code.
The book provides detailed facts that are very important for Autistic people to feel safe. The more information available on a topic, the better you can find your way around. Information is therefore an important contribution to autonomy. A wide range of menstrual hygiene products are pictured. Each individual product has detailed, illustrated instructions showing how to use it and how to dispose of it. The sensory properties, the environmental aspect and the sustainability of the products are also discussed.
Also shown are different types of waste bins and where they can be found in public toilets. The author also provides measures and possibilities in case there is no container. In this way, an insecure autistic person can move around better in public toilets and is more likely to be able to cope in unfamiliar surroundings.
Practical tools such as menstrual apps are discussed and a glossary explains emotions associated with menstruation: sadness, anger, nervousness and many more. The autistic readers of this blog know that it is not always easy to name your own emotions in a way that others can understand. A glossary can be very helpful.
Robyn Steward’s book „The Autism Friendly Guide to periods“ is an excellent illustratedcollection of information. It is a good tool for educating autistic people with uterus and also for people who are not menstruating. It is also eye-opening for parents, professionals and caregivers because of the way the information is presented and it is a good insight into the way autistic people can be given information.
Robyn Steward – The Autism Friendly Guide to periods