Teaching any child personal hygiene is a challenging task. For kids on the autism spectrum, this task often proves to be especially tricky. However, for overall physical and social health, finding success in teaching personal hygiene is crucial.
There are a number of reasons personal hygiene is especially challenging for kids with autism. Most people feel the need to take care of their hygiene in order to meet social standards of pleasantness and have an understanding of what these standards are. For some on the spectrum, they either don’t care about social interactions or will simply miss certain cues if they do care.
You may find that you will need to clearly explain to your child the reasons people find hygiene important. For instance, you can tell them that it is important to brush their teeth because people do not like to talk to people who have bad breath, and brushing your teeth keeps your mouth healthy. If these motivations aren’t enough, you can implement a reward system for certain hygiene achievements.
Sensory issues can be another roadblock to learning hygiene. For instance, all the different sensations involved in showering, such as; the smells of the soap, the feeling of suds in hair, and act of scrubbing the skin clean, can seem unpleasant or overwhelming.
You will find that doing your best to get on their level and empathizing will go a long way in earning their trust and cooperation. Try easing your child into certain tasks they find challenging and breaking them up into smaller parts. For instance, if your child is having trouble washing their hands before meals, try having them hold their hands under the water for five seconds. Next time have them hold it under for ten seconds followed by adding soap. This same principle can be used to teach your child other tasks as well. Be sure to exercise patience and praise them each time they make progress.
Teaching these skills early on, staying consistent, and creating a routine will increase the likelihood that they will create and maintain healthy hygiene habits. As your child grows older, it will be important to take steps to make them more independent with their hygiene as things become more complex. You may find that creating a laminated schedule with a checklist of items and visual aids will be helpful in preparing them for this independence.
If you run into repeated challenges to hygiene after trying different solutions, do your best not to get discouraged. You will likely run through multiple options and have to use patience before you find significant progress. Don’t forget to reach out for support around you and to ask around about what has worked for others.