Teaching autistic children personal hygiene and grooming skills can be a somewhat overwhelming endeavor. This is a simple task for typically developing children, but for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a simple routine could overwhelm one’s senses. Family members will work hard to enforce good personal hygiene skills.
The act of grooming is a combination of multiple gross motor skills put together to create a larger complex skill. Daily hygiene habits involve more than brushing one’s teeth or taking a shower. It also includes managing body odor, learning to use deodorant, cutting nails, etc. Children with ASD lack the necessary skills or are sensitive to the stimuli associated with these tasks.
As your child grows and reaches adolescence, they need to understand the importance of being clean and having a neat appearance. Failing to take care of the body’s hygiene can impact the child’s social life.
When it comes to learning, the first step is to break it down into smaller and more manageable steps—personal hygiene can seem intimidating for autistic children. Parents can meet these challenges using specific learning techniques presented in this article.
Tips for Building Hygiene and Grooming Skills
When your child was younger, you taught them the basics of good hygiene, such as washing their hair, brushing their teeth, or having a shower. As your child grows into a teenager, their bodies change, so routines need to change. They need to learn how to shave or when to care for pimples.
In addition, your little one should learn how to manage personal hygiene with or without your help.
Develop a Routine
Autistic children are keen on keeping routines. If you create a grooming routine and stick to it, your little one will always know what comes next. This way, your child will understand that hygiene is part of their everyday activities.
You can do the following:
- Create a short checklist with the steps they need to take
- Number the steps or consider taking pictures of your child going through the routine
- Put the morning and bedtime routine where your child will see it often
- Your child can check off steps as they complete them
An evening routine can look like this:
- Dry off
- Put on pajamas
- Apply moisturizer
- Brush or floss teeth
- Rinse with mouthwash
- Go to sleep
Use Visual Schedules
Many autistic people are visual learners and learn better by doing rather than watching or listening. That’s why you can use visual support to break down your little one’s routine into steps. By doing this, your child can learn independent hygiene skills—and even put these skills into practice.
You can create schedules that use words, pictures, or both. These schedules can cover your child’s hygiene routine, or you can use these schedules to include only a part of your child’s routine.
It’s essential to consider what works for your child and cater to their interests. For example, if your little one gets overwhelmed by many instructions, you can start with just one part of the routine. Over time, you can cover more.
Create Social Stories
Social stories are brief descriptions of a particular situation, story, or activity—and usually, describe what to expect in a situation and why. The goal of a social story is to give the child a situation to rehearse, so they are prepared for a specific situation.
It’s a great idea to teach essential safety issues, encourage them to try something new, or teach appropriate behaviors. The stories are straightforward and use simple language. You can create your own social story about personal hygiene and grooming—and the steps they need to take to ensure success.
Learning hygiene and grooming skills should be fun! Toys can keep children distracted and make it easier for them to focus on the task at hand. For example, you can use these toys when your child is taking a bath—and there are many wind-up toys or waterproof dolls that you can use.
Try one of these items to encourage exploration of different sensations and textures:
Explain the Importance of Hygiene
Children with ASD have difficulty understanding the thoughts and feelings of others, so they might also not understand the importance of hygiene. Social stories, as mentioned above, are perfect for explaining the need for grooming. You can also describe what others think or feel when someone doesn’t bathe or has poor hygiene.
Be clear about what you’re trying to explain, and use simple language when explaining these sensitive topics.
Try an App
If you want to teach your child to groom themselves, there’s an app that can do that for you. It’s called Pepi Bath, and it will allow your little one to choose a character and role-play washing hands, using a shower, or putting clothes in the washing machine. It’s a fun and engaging way to learn—your child will relax and let their favorite character teach him about proper hygiene.
Your autistic child might learn better with an incentive. Children with ASD do not experience the same relief we get from engaging in self-care skills, such as feeling clean. It’s important to use a strong motivator and reward them for being able to perform a specific task. You can offer snacks, toys, or extra playtime.
Sometimes, a child will strongly dislike the activity they are doing and attempt to avoid that task. Reward every step they manage to complete. When your child gains more independence and acquires more tolerance, you can provide them with rewards after each completed task.
It’s vital to slowly fade out rewards as the child makes progress in order to avoid dependence and over-reliance.
Other Helpful Tips
- Give your child a choice of textures, products, or fragrances whenever you can.
- Keep the supplies close to one another in the bathroom.
- You can have two baskets, one with items for the morning routine and the other for the evening routine.
- Ask your occupational therapist if they have good ideas for how to teach hygiene and grooming skills (they usually do!).
- Make a self-care book with instructions and photos of the needed supplies. You can also post laminated pictures of the supplies on the bathroom wall.