Close the Door

Because many individuals with autism get stuck in routines, it is a good idea to start teaching our friends appropriate habits when they are very young. For example, a toddler does not particularly need to close the bathroom door when taking a bath, but a teen must do so.

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It goes without saying that it is easier to teach a new habit than to try to break an old habit. But this is particularly true for individuals with autism. Restrictive routines and repetitive habits rule the lives of many of our friends. I’ve often heard adults say things like, “I wish we had never let him leave the door open when taking a bath.”

One of my friends with autism got in the habit of coming out of the bathroom with his pants down so his parents could help him snap his pants. Unfortunately, it became a routine when he was a toddler, a pervasive habit he has carried into his teens. In spite of his best intentions, he still walks out of the bathroom at school or on the job occasionally with his shorts or slacks at his ankles.

A parent of a young adult with autism and developmental disabilities send a distraught note asking for some ideas for teaching her son to put on some clothes after his bath rather than running around the house without clothes. It seems that he developed that habit as a toddler of a playful chase after a bath before his parents helped him get dressed. His parents have now introduced some strategies to break the habit, but, because this young man is extraordinarily focused on long-standing routines, they realize it would have been easier to develop more appropriate habits very early in his life.

If you are a family member or teacher of a youngster with autism, you might consider teaching some of these life-time skills now in the interest of their privacy.
1. Closing the bathroom door when bathing or toileting.
2. Flushing, pulling up pants, and washing hands before opening the door after toileting.
3. Covering with a towel, robe, or clothes before opening the door after a bath.
4. Dressing in a somewhat private space before coming into the family room, kitchen, or other public space.

TIP FOR THE DAY: If your friend with autism is not exceptionally focused on routines and habits, this conversation may seem a bit odd. But those of you who have experienced rigidity and extraordinary resistance to changing routines understand the need for pro-active planning.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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