5 minutes with… Erin Donnelly from Planet Puberty

June 22, 2021
By Kindred
Erin Donnelly (left) and the Planet Puberty team

What is Planet Puberty and what does it offer to families of children with intellectual disability and autism?  

Planet Puberty is a brand new suite of resources designed to help parents and carers of children with intellectual disability or autism navigate the changes to their child’s bodies, emotions and social interactions occurring during puberty.  

The project includes a website, webinar series and podcast. The website is your go-to place to find accessible lessons, factsheets, videos and useful books about all things puberty. 

The webinar series gives parents and carers across Australia a chance to join the discussion and ask questions on a range of puberty topics, with expert advice from Family Planning NSW psychologist Zoe Semmler and Associate Medical Director Dr Clare Boerma. 

We’re also really excited about our Planet Puberty Podcast, which features the voices of real people with intellectual disability and/or autism, parents and carers, and special guests including former Dolly Doctor Melissa Kang and sexologist and counsellor Jodi Rodgers from the  ‘Love on the Spectrum’ show! 

How do the workshops and resources cater for children’s different learning needs? 

Planet Puberty offers lessons and worksheets at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, so you can find the level of information that is right for your family. The materials and strategies you’ll find at Planet Puberty have all been designed to be adaptable to how your child learns, so you can get creative with the way you teach them.  

Planet Puberty has been developed in consultation with people with disability, as well as their parents and carers to make sure the information is relevant for families and accessible for different learning styles. 

We’re making every page on Planet Puberty available in “Easy English” for any children that might need more accessible information. We also have a Resource Hub that contains websites, factsheets, books, videos and other tools for every level of learning. 

Is it ever too early to start preparing your child for Puberty? What age do you recommend addressing the changes? 

If you haven’t started talking to their child about puberty yet, that’s OK – it’s never too early (or too late) to startPuberty is different for each child, and as a parent or carer, you know your child best! 

We know that parents of children with intellectual disability or autism are often unsure about when they should start teaching their child about puberty. Some parents might be concerned that puberty information is too complex for their child to understand, or simply might not want to admit their child is growing up! 

We believe teaching and learning about our bodies, sexualities and ourselves is a lifelong journey that can be adapted for all ages. It is good to start to talk about bodies and development as early as you can, using your child’s preferred communication style. 

 What can families do from an early age to help with the transition to puberty for their children?  

We always encourage families to be proactive about puberty, even before it’s on the horizon. 

Children with intellectual disability and/or autism often need extra time to prepare for any big changes they experience, so the earlier and more often parents can talk about things like private body parts, hygiene and body development, the more easy those changes will be to manage. 

Planet Puberty has some suggested conversation starters, like “Can you tell me who the boss of your body is?” or “You’re getting older now and growing up! Do you know how people become a grown up?” 

Think about how the experience of puberty was for you and don’t feel like you need to know all the answers. If you don’t know something, you can always say “That’s a good question. I don’t know how to answer it. Let’s find out together.”  

How do parents/carers access your services? Is there a cost? 

This project was funded by the Department of Social Services and it is completely free to access. Parents and carers simply need to visit https://planetpuberty.org.au to get full access to the resources, webinars and podcast. You can also keep an eye on the Family Planning NSW social media platforms to see more stories and information. 

Why is addressing puberty important for all children? 

Puberty is a time of immense change and growth in any child’s life. It’s important to consider that children with intellectual disability and/or autism have the same wants and needs around puberty, relationships and sexuality as all adolescents do, but they may express them differently, or struggle to feel accepted among their peers. 

Parents and carers are sometimes nervous to broach these topics or can be doubtful of their child’s ability to understand the changes they are going through. At times, this could mean that children with intellectual disability and/or autism miss out on crucial support and education on important topics like hygiene, relationship development, safety and consent. 

The aim of Planet Puberty is to empower parents and carers to provide this support to their child, in a way that works best for their family. We hope you enjoy using the site and listening to the podcast!  



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