Birth control for autistic teens should be a viable option for parents and doctors to consider. As the mother of a cognitively impaired daughter, I know the worries that can result in this decision and the criticisms that can come from it!
Teenage pregnancy is a serious problem that stems from the difference between biological adulthood and cultural adulthood. At puberty, biologically speaking, a human reaches adulthood. They develop the same biological urges as any adult, including the needs to experience sexual stimulation and to pair with another human. Unfortunately, by societal standards, these biological adults still have many years of development ahead and without these added years of development, becoming a productive member in our complex society becomes a lot harder.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2002, there were approximately 750,000 teenage pregnancies with close to 215,000 ending in abortion. The overall rate of teenage pregnancies was at its lowest level in 30 years and the abortion rate was down 50 percent from its highest level in 1988. Among just those teenagers that admitted to having intercourse, the level of teenage pregnancies declined a staggering 28 percent.
One of the possible reasons for this decline is the increased ease of obtaining birth control as well as better reproductive health education resources. Unfortunately, teenagers with severe autism or other cognitive problems may not understand the complexities of reproductive health and are unlikely to be able to make an informed decision regarding forms of contraception and family planning.
Another area of this debate that is often ignored is the ability to regulate the menstrual flow with oral contraceptives. Autistic girls, depending on their cognitive abilities, may or may not understand what is happening when they have their periods. For many with developmental impairments, menstruation can be a stress inducing occurrence.
By being able to regulate these menstrual flows, caregivers can be prepared. This makes hygiene issues and educational issues easier, by having time to explain what will be happening and having supplies on hand.
My daughter is just beginning her trip through puberty and I’ve discussed the possibility of placing her on birth control with some of the people that help care for her. I think using oral birth control pills to regulate her menstruation is in all of our best interests. I’m also worried about her making a poor choice or worse yet, being taken advantage of and then her having to accept consequences that are beyond her comprehension.
Unfortunately, the few people I have discussed this with have had varied reactions. The worst being that I was setting my daughter up to be molested! I was appalled by this point of view. I was told in no uncertain terms that as a mother, it was my responsibility to make sure my daughter was never in a position to need birth control and that by even considering such a thing, I was neglecting my duty to her.
I, of course, disagree. No parent can be everywhere, all the time. Of course, I will try to keep her from any and all harm but I do know my limitations. I think protecting her with birth control is a part of my duty to keep her as safe as possible. Unfortunately, to be honest, I am fearful of bringing it up again.