Our topic today addresses daily grooming, an area of concern for many parents and caregivers of individuals with autism. One dad commented, “I really have to battle with my son to get him to take a shower – he doesn’t like all the sensory input of showering, shaving, and toothbrushing.” Another parent said, “My daughter is really focused on her regular daily routine, so it really throws her off when I try to get her a bath when she needs it.”
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SPECIFIC STRATEGY Because of issues with sensory sensitivity and obsession with routines, it can be difficult for people with autism to maintain an appropriate level of grooming. At the same time, poor hygiene is a serious problem. Unpleasant body odor, bad breath, dirty clothes, and a messy appearance can hamper social relations. Cleanliness is important, not only for the individual’s health, but also for the comfort of people around them. At the same time, I can certainly understand why a person who is tactily defensive would resist bathing. So, try introducing two strategies today. STEP 1: Avoid nagging about bathing, tooth-brushing, and other issues. Be positive and matter-of-fact, making “Clean Top to Bottom” part of the regular nightly routine. Don’t hesitate to use rewards to help encourage this critical skill. In a firm and positive manner, make grooming a regular part of every single day. It may take a long time to establish the pattern, but, in the long run, the daily routine of grooming will work better than trying to fit it in at irregular intervals throughout the week. Be patient but firm. You are building a skill that will last a lifetime. STEP 2: Make this an adventure rather than a chore. Help the person assemble his or her own grooming kit with personal shampoo, soap, deodorant, cologne, lotion, brush or comb, toothbrush, and toothpaste, floss, and mouthwash. For an extra incentive, provide a terry robe with their initials on it or let them buy their own towel. At a certain time every day, have them grab their grooming kit and head to the bathroom for a simple four-step process: (1) take a shower or bath and wash hair, (2) put on deodorant, cologne, and hand lotion, and comb hair, (3) put on clean undergarments and clothes every day, and (4) brush and floss and swish mouthwash, Even when they are young, encourage folks to do as much of this without your help as possible. People with autism often find routines comforting, so try using some of these hints to establish “Clean Top to Bottom” as a regular, daily routine. Your efforts will pay off in the long run.
NOTE TO LISTENERS AND READERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. www.FAQautism.com