06 Nov Teaching Hygiene Without Meltdowns
From information gathered from interviews and surveys, many parents expressed that hygiene issues are one of their biggest concerns. Children with autism sometimes experience a breakdown in understanding the importance of cleanliness. They do not automatically understand that if they don’t shower, germs may make them sick, and when they smell bad, it is difficult to make friends. Because these outcomes may not matter to them, it is essential to teach the importance of good hygiene, and why she should care about being clean. Below are some tried-and-proven tips that focus on helping your child to shower or bathe daily without either of you melting down.
- Place a bath or shower symbol in your child’s daily schedule. Make sure that you schedule your child’s bath/shower during a time when she is not going to feel rushed. If your child has difficulty getting into the bathtub or shower, be patient and let her take some time to get adjusted to this transition.
- Make taking a bath/shower part of your child’s daily routine. Taking a bath/shower is not a choice, but a must. Just like going to bed and eating are not optional and essential for survival, bathing or showering should be a part of your child’s schedule every day.
- Respect your child’s sensory needs. There are many overwhelming stimulators when taking a bath or shower: the sound of running water, the feeling of water itself, the steam, the smell of soap and shampoo, etc. Bathing can cause a sensory overload for your child. You can try different types of soaps and shampoos to ensure that your child is comfortable.
- Create a task strip, breaking down each individual step involved in the bath or shower. Include turning on the water, wetting the whole body, putting soap on a washcloth or sponge, etc. If your child tends to forget to wash certain parts of her body, you can include this in the task strip also. Write down every part of the body that you want her to wash. Laminate the task strip and hang it in the shower.
- Use a timer to either encourage your child to stay in the bath/shower longer or to get her out of the bath/shower if she tends to take too much time. You can also try using music instead of a timer. Create a CD that she can listen to while in the bathroom for the length of her bath or shower time. When the CD is finished, it is time to get out.
- Remember that typically, children on the autism spectrum have difficulty understanding the thoughts and feelings of others. You can explain the importance of hygiene to your child by using a picture social story. Describe how others feel and what they may think when someone does not take a bathe. Be clear about how other kids may not want to hang out with her if she smells bad. This thought process may not come naturally to your child. So using something motivating, like your child’s desire to have friends, if she cares about this, may encourage her to take a bath or shower.
- Place a picture of a motivator or reward after the bath/shower symbol in her daily schedule. Reward appropriate behavior with a desired activity or item.
- Try using a chart with stars or stickers. Clearly define the requirements for receiving a star or sticker. For example, if your child needs to wash her body with soap, write, “Wash your whole body with soap to earn 1 sticker.” Make an agreement with your child that if she gets seven stickers she will earn a reward. Be sure to use a very exciting reward as her motivator.
Hygiene issues can get worse as your child gets older. The longer she goes without a strict routine to adhere to, the worse the behavior can become. However, with some organization, planning, and creative ideas, you can motivate your child to complete the desired task. Remember that your child is visual and learns from repetition, and don’t give up! If a strategy doesn’t work the first time, or even the second, third, or fourth time, keep trying. It will get easier!
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