Hey, Fingerprints I am back again with a brand new blog and today I want to talk about quite a personal subject matter for most of you. Personal Hygiene. It’s not something that is talked about a lot when you are thinking of a person on the spectrum, but for some families it can be a real challenge. But it shouldn’t have to be so hard. The reason your child or adult with autism may have difficulties with personal hygiene may be down to a number of factors which culminate under two headings. Physical and Social.
Firstly let me discuss the physical problems associated with personal hygiene and please bare with me there are a few.
Sensory problems / Physical Problems
For a teenager with autism, keeping clean can be surprisingly uncomfortable. Here are a few common problems, along with how to help.
Problem 1. Touch. There are some people with autism who have very sensitive skin like me and my hair if a single strand lands on me it feels like I am on fire. It could be similar for those in the spectrum who have sensitive skin when water is being “showered” upon them, or when they have a cold squirt of deodorant sprayed onto their skin. I used to hate brushing my teeth because the feeling of the hard bristles. I know many autistic people who feel the same.
How to Help.
- Try baths rather than showers, and keep temperature changes to a minimum. For instance, keep the temperature of the room and the temperature of the water about even, and perhaps warm the towels up.
- Try a 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner: that reduces the amount of rubbing on the scalp.
- Use goggles to protect their eyes from shampoo and water.
- Roll-on deodorants are less of a shock to the skin than sprays.
- An electric toothbrush or one with softer bristles might be easier on the mouth.
Problem 2. Smell. Some scents can be too potent for someone on the spectrum. Some strong smelling shampoo or minty toothpaste may be keeping them away from the bathroom. Although on the other hand it could be the reverse, some kids on the spectrum with more complex problems can be attracted to the smell of faeces and keeping them away from it may be a difficult task
How to help
- Try different brands of toothpaste and shampoo to see which they prefer.
Problem 3. Taste. You probably shouldn’t be eating most hygiene products, but toothpaste is an issue. More than that, the taste of the water in the bathroom tap might be causing a problem.
How to Help
- Try different toothpaste. Baby toothpaste is often milder-tasting, for instance. (Talk to your dentist about this one. Baby toothpaste tends to have lower levels of fluoride than adult brands, so they’re not ideal – but if adult flavours are really intolerable, then the baby toothpaste is a lot better than nothing.)
- If your son or daughter can drink water from other taps in the house, bring some up in a jug or glass. You might also try filtered or mineral water to see if they’re any better. Spitting out the excess toothpaste without rinsing is also a reasonable option.
Problem 4: Hearing. The sound of running water might be causing a sensory overload– or, on the flip side, they might absolutely love it and flood the bathroom when you turn your back.
How To Help
- Run a bath or fill the sink, and only call your son or daughter in when it’s ready.
- If they need to run water without you, let them use noise-cancelling headphones.
- For a flooded, you may need to put a padlock high up on the bathroom door. Longer-term, you should probably look into behavioural interventions to discourage this.
- Experiment with scissors or safety razors instead of electrical ones.
Problem 5: Proprioception. Autism can mess with your sense of balance and your ability to feel what your body is doing. If you aren’t sure of your balance, standing in a slippery tub is scary.
How To Help
- Some kids with autism prefer to wash in a sink or use the shower bending over the tub. If they’re keeping clean and this works for them, an ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude may be all you need here.
- A chair that lets them sit down in the shower might feel safer. (Assuming it’s good and steady.)
- For milder balance problems, anti-slip stickers in the tub could be useful. The easiest places to find aids like these are online stored for disabled people and senior citizens.
- A reliable bathmat on the floor can prevent slips when getting out of the bath or shower.
Now on to the social side of things
To all the neurotypicals in the world how you look and smell is quite obvious but to those on the spectrum what seems natural to you we may have overlooked.
Some social signals may be too subtle. Let me just put it out here WE DO NOT GET SARCASM. If we come across like we don’t care but the fact is we may not notice how we smell. But this makes it harder for us to make friends because we simply do not know.
Neurotypicals (mostly) have yet to develop the empathy and understanding to be nice about these things.
How to Help
Visual Routines that cover cleanliness throughout the day. For me a 23 y/o I still use a PECS board to remind me to do things that I would otherwise forget. If your child or adult with autism finds it hard to understand complex tasks. I know I do I use my task list in my phone to break down what I have to do into easily manageable can do tasks.
If your child is learning something new for the first time then a demonstration may be required, Although when it comes to things like showering or keeping their private areas clean for modesties sake it may be easier to have the same sex parent or carer do that, and it may be easier for them to follow, and being a kid with autism they are not going to think you are weird or inappropriate.
Timers are useful tools for cleaning and self-care to ensure things like cleaning your teeth are done for the adequate amount of time
Any tips for how to manage personal hygiene leave them below.