When you first get your period, it can be really confusing, especially if you haven’t been prepared for it. I know many parents struggle to know how exactly to prepare their blind child for this stage of their life. How much should they explain? What resources will be useful? Are all products useful and accessible to people who are blind?
Whilst I don’t encourage people talk about their child’s periods on blogs for obvious reasons, I’m extremely comfortable discussing this aspect of my life so I thought I would write about the process and the things that did and didn’t work for me.
How to explain periods to someone who is blind
I personally don’t believe you need to modify your explanation of periods just because you are talking to a child who is blind. If the child has multiple disabilities, you may need to approach explaining the situation differently. However blind children should definitely be fully educated about their bodies and be given the opportunity to ask any questions they may have.
Your child may not wish to talk to you about this. In my family we were always really open about these kinds of things, however I completely understand that some children and teens may feel embarrassed. There are lots of resources you can give your child so that they can still access all the information they need, even if they don’t wish to speak to you.
If your child uses the internet they may find this article all about menstruation very useful in order to understand what exactly is happening to their bodies. I also think this article from Always, explaining three signs you’re getting your first period is really helpful as it tells you what to look for, and also gives you advice on preparing a small emergency kit for when you get your period.
If your child would rather read about this in braille, National Braille Press sells a book explaining all about periods that you could buy for them. You can also download resources from the internet and either emboss them or put them on a USB drive to be read on a braille note-taker.
How to teach a blind child to recognise they are getting their period
In many ways blind people recognise that they are getting their period in exactly the same ways sighted people do. They may experience increased acne, stomach cramps, breast tenderness, back pain and bloating. These are all signs that a blind child or teen can learn to recognise in order to help them realise their period is approaching. For some people these symptoms will happen around the same time each month, so it can be useful to teach your child to keep a record of these symptoms to see if there is a pattern.
It is also vital that your blind child learns to tell the difference between blood and other kinds of discharge. This is not only useful for when they get their period, but for learning how to manage injuries or other health conditions. Blood has a very distinct consistency. It is sticky and has a faint metallic scent which your blind child may pick up on.
What products should a blind person use?
As with everyone, blind people have individual opinions when it comes to which products work best. I first tried pads and then moved onto tampons, which work well for me. Figuring out which products are going to work best for your child will take time, and they are likely to change their opinions and want to try new things as they get older.
It is worth buying a few different things beforehand not only so they can try them, but so that they also understand what their choices are. Remember that whilst sighted children will look at products when they are in the supermarket, a blind child is unable to do this, so you will need to make sure they are aware of all their options.
My initial suggestions would be pads with wings, smaller liners for use at night, tampons without applicators and tampons with applicators. You could also introduce your child to options like a menstrual cup and period proof underwear.
But how do I teach my child to use these products?
I’m going to get personal here and share my own period story. I started my period when I was very young and it was actually quite unexpected. However as soon as my mum saw what was happening she explained the situation to me. I was already aware of periods (I have an older sister) so the fact that I was starting mine wasn’t scary. My mum showed me both tampons and pads and explained how I should use them. At first she showed me how to put a pad into my underwear.
We started off by having a pair of underwear in front of me, and her showing me how to peal the paper off the back of the pad and stick it in the underwear. I found this awkward and so we tried it with me actually sitting on the toilet, with my underwear pulled down, like I would be if I was changing my pad. This worked better for me as I was able to learn how to put a pad in my underwear in the setting I’d actually use it.
In order to learn how to insert a tampon my mum explained to me the exact structure of my body. Of course I was aware of this to an extent, however it was useful for her to talk me through it as I was very young at the time. She explained where the tampon needed to go, and how I should insert it. We did this just after I’d had a bath, so I was wrapped in a towel and she made sure I had the privacy I wanted, including privacy from her.
Isn’t it easier to put my child on the pill?
Using contraception is a totally valid choice that some blind people may choose to make. I personally have terrible periods so in the past I have used various methods of contraception. The pill, the depo shot, the coil and the implant are all options your child may consider and it is worth speaking to your child about them so that they are aware that they exist.
I would caution against making this choice for your child, or implying that it would be easier for them than learning to manage their periods. Contraception doesn’t work for everyone and even if it does there may come a point when your child wishes to come off it in order to conceive. If they don’t know how to manage their periods they will be lost at this stage, most likely an adult with nobody to turn to for help with this. It’s definitely better that your child learns how to manage this completely natural aspect of their life whilst they still have you to guide them.
Having said that, some young blind people may wish to use contraception. I used the pill for the first time when I was thirteen so it is good if they know about the choices available to them.
Here are some things I find very useful as a blind person who also gets periods!
- Teach your child to track their period using an app on their phone if they have one. I use the health app on my iPhone to track when I get my periods. Mine are very irregular, but for people with regular periods it can be great to help them notice if something doesn’t seem right.
- Make note of the products your child prefers, and ensure they have access to that information. At some point your blind child will step out into the world and have to go shopping on their own. Nobody likes grocery shopping, but there is nothing worse than being stood in the supermarket with a shop assistant and no idea which brand of tampons you want! If your child is armed with that information it will make shopping for menstrual products far less stressful than it otherwise could be.
- Teach your child to be responsible for packing an emergency period kit that they carry to school. This might include underwear, tampons/pads, wipes and anything else they find useful. It’s always handy to carry a small kit like this just in case.
- Explain that everyone has accidents and makes mistakes. It can be easy for blind people to blame themselves for things like a period leakage and to feel guilty because of it. If your child knows that these sorts of things happen to everyone and ways in which they can manage it, such as how to take stains out of their clothes, it may avoid embarrassment and unnecessary anxiety down the line.
Although the first period can be a tense time for anyone, it need not be any worse because a child is blind. With an open mind, a willingness to take the time needed to teach and confidence that your child can handle this you will soon find that it wasn’t as scary as you might have imagined.