Intellectual disabilities and periods
Some disabilities you can’t see, and when it comes to intellectual disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, developmental delay, and more, women and girls are up against a number of barriers that make menstruation a stressful experience. These include a lack of ability to gather information on periods, lack of educational materials that cater to varying learning requirements, and sometimes a lack of understanding about what is happening to their body.
Many of us have grown accustomed to our periods and can handle them on autopilot, but if you actually think about what goes into managing them, there’s a lot! Some steps include keeping track of when it’s due, being prepared with appropriate sanitary products, changing the products (which can be messy!), disposal of used products, knowing about things like toxic shock syndrome (TSS), dealing with laundry when inevitable leaks happen, pain relief for cramps, remembering the correct daily intake of birth control pills to manage symptoms, and of course, there’s low mood and mood swings, which can be even more difficult for someone with an intellectual disability.
Typically, if someone can learn to be independent in their toilet hygiene, they can learn to be independent in managing their periods - of course, this won’t always be the case, but it’s a good general rule. Still, in some cases it is useful for carers or family members to track the periods of those with disabilities to ensure they are always healthy, since your menstrual cycle can be an indicator of other health problems, and those with intellectual disabilities may not recognise tell-tale signs or feel comfortable sharing them to seek help.
Tracking allows the person to be prepared for their next period, and can even help manage the symptoms of their disability. As an example, epilepsy is prevalent in up to 20-40% of people with intellectual disabilities, and seizures can be linked to hormonal changes in the menstrual cycle. By tracking this, carers can monitor the likelihood of issues.
Whatever difficulties you face with puberty, periods, and the emotions that come with them, you can be sure that most girls and women have experienced the highs and lows (well, mostly lows!) of periods, and that’s something that will always unite us - making it forever acceptable to ask a stranger for an emergency sanitary towel!