Personal hygiene is something lots of children and young people struggle with. After all playing computer games or watching TV is far more exciting than taking a shower or brushing your teeth.
Add into the mix the sensory difficulties of many children on the Spectrum and the need to stay in control experienced by those with Pathological Demand Avoidance and it isn’t surprising that creating good personal hygiene routines can be a particular challenge for many families of children with autism.
So If This Is An Area Your Child Finds Difficult What Can You Do?
Implement A Reward Scheme
I know it’s something I talk about a lot, but particularly in the early stages of setting up something difficult a new a well thought out reward scheme really can make a difference. Think carefully about what will be most motivating for your child, a small reward after each incident of personal care or a chart working towards something larger that means more to them.
Once a good routine has been established rewards can very gradually be faded, to make self care a more natural part of the day.
Think About How You Can Make The Sensations Easier
Trial different sponges and clothes, different types of toothbrushes, different types of towels and baths versus showers. Discuss with your child which of these is less annoying and frustrating. It is for instance easy for us as parents to assume that a shower will be less irritating for our children because it takes less time, whereas for some the sensation of the water falling on their skin will be physically painful in a way that a bath may not be.
The key is to involve your child in the activities and show them that you understand that it is hard. Listen carefully to what they tell you and demonstrate through your actions that you are taking them seriously and doing all you can to make it as easy as possible.
Make Them Feel Special
Take them shopping – ideally at a quiet time – so it is a treat rather than something to become anxious about – to choose their own self care products. Allow them to choose products with smells that appeal to them, and a wash bag to keep their products together that they like.
Having products that young people have picked out themselves makes them much more likely to feel in control and therefore to want to use the products.
Explain The Reasons
If there is something that many of my students struggle with it’s strong smells. Most of us avoid wearing perfume for this reason, and there is always a packet of mints in the drawer in case our breath causes offence.
Relating their own personal hygiene to the smells your child finds offensive can be helpful in showing them just why personal hygiene is so important. For some children you may need to amplify this a little by spending a weekend practicing poor hygiene yourself. Photographs, which can be found online, of teeth that have become rotten can also be helpful. Using these these practical examples, it’s much easier to be able to explain just why personal care is something that you nag about.
The key is to show them that there is a reason behind your nagging, you are not just nagging for the sake of being annoying.
Make It Fun
Whether it’s using a timer, or competing with a sibling to see whose teeth are the cleanest at the end of the week adding a sense of challenge or competition an really help some young people. For others social stories directly related to their special interest are the key behind adding an element of fun, whilst for others being able to listen to their favourite music whilst taking a bath, or using products that will colour the water are the key. From fizzing bath bombs, to crayons to use in the tub there are a whole host of exciting products out there.
For younger children in particular distraction often plays a successful part in establishing a personal hygiene, so finding the fun trick that makes it worthwhile for your child to take part can be really helpful. You may have to try several before you hit on the right one for your family.
Try Using A Schedule Or Tick Sheet
Making a set time for personal hygiene to take place can take some of the nagging out of the situation, and therefore reduce the pressure. For some young people a physical schedule or tick sheet of activities which need to be done in the morning or after school will help with this. For others just knowing that it will happen at the same time every day will be enough.
Thinking carefully about the time of day can also make a difference. In our house showers happen straight after school, before any preferred activities happen. Straight after shower comes snack and iPad time, meaning that the non-preferred activity is instantly followed by preferred ones. For us that definitely reduces the amount of arguments caused.
If you do want to learn more you might find our autism section a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.
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