Poor hygiene is a serious problem. Unpleasant body odor, bad breath, dirty clothes, and a messy appearance can make it difficult to make and keep friends, to get a job, and to participate in group activities of any kind. 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 has significant sensory sensitivities would resist bathing, shaving, or haircuts. And we could certainly expect a person who is very focused on a regular nightly routine to resist being told on random nights to take a shower.
Here are two ideas some families and residential care staff members have utilized to help establish a regular, daily grooming routine for individuals who have significant sensory issues or who are not able to tolerate changes in routine.
CLEAN TOP-TO-BOTTOM. 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 hang in there. In the long run, establishing a routine of grooming every single day works better than trying to fit in a shower or shampoo at irregular intervals throughout the week. Be patient but firm. You are building a skill that will last a lifetime.
PERSONALIZED GROOMING KIT. 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 READERS AND LISTENERS: 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. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to talk@FAQautism.com And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com