Kids with autism can have hygiene proglems

Three Tips to Solve Challenges with Personal Hygiene

I received the following email from a mother…
I have a question, how do you deal with helping children to take care of themselves, their personal hygiene. I have a 11 year old daughter who does not do the daily things without reminding, brush hair, shower, brush teeth, and she cares nothing of her appearance. Do not get me wrong, I am not big on appearance, but I do want her to look presentable and clean. (brushed hair etc.) Any advice?
Personal hygiene is often a challenge of those on the autism spectrum. It is equally if not more of a challenge with boys. Kids, teens and young adults want to have friends. But lack of understanding of how they appear to others and poor personal hygiene contribute to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) kids having so many problems both getting and keeping friends.

Why those with AS don’t understand personal hygiene

Because those with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have such difficulty reading social cues, they can’t seem to pick up on the “social slang” that their peers use; they can’t talk easily and casually like so many of their peers do. Because of this, they are often shunned. They can’t break into conversations. They stand just on the outside, looking in. Contributing to this is social ridicule and bullying that can occur with being different—whether that is lack of understanding how to dress or looking (and smelling) bad! Those with ASD wants friends but can’t figure out how to get them; some don’t have any desire for them. For those who want them but can’t figure out how to make friends, it can be especially painful. They try the best they know how; maybe they talk about spaceships and current events and politics. Topics that make sense to them. They don’t know that these topics don’t interest their peers. They might try to copy their friends’ language and words but it comes out sounding forced and scripted. Most of their peers just don’t have the patience for their oddity and awkwardness. Making matters worse is their lack of understanding that personal hygiene is important! Other people do not want to be around a person who they perceive as dirty, has bad breath or never combs her hair.

Three Strategies that often work

  1. Relate the behavior change to something concrete. One way to instill the necessity of personal hygiene is to explain to your daughter that in order for her to have friends, she needs to stay clean—brush her hair, her teeth, take showers and wear deodorant. Other kids pick up on these issues naturally or get “hints” from their peers. This is not the case with many ASD kids.  
  2. Explain why they should care. The best way to change behavior of an ASD child is to explain to them why it is important—in a way that makes them want to change. Most all kids want friends. Associating staying clean with having friends can motivate a child or teen to focus on these issues.  
  3. Be specific. Hints often fall short when communicating with a person with autism. This is true whether they are 5, 15 or 55. Explain that if she does not use deodorant she will smell very bad and people will not want to be near here.

Use something that is important to your loved one as a motivator

Try using something that is important to your child as a link to their own motivation, to reduce your having to remind and prompt all the time. For example, most teens want friends and even want dates with the opposite sex. Helping her understand that stinky armpits, greasy hair, and nose picking might hinder her from getting what she wants will—hopefully—building some inner motivation. It’s still a long haul though. Just remind her of what is important to HER.

It is all about their self-interests, not yours!

Younger loved ones with ASD are often rather indifferent to what people think of them as long as nobody is making fun of them or bullying them. A mom tells how she motivates here 13 year old autistic son…
He is VERY committed to having long hair (something about a world’s record…) so that is MY key to motivating him to keep himself clean and combed. He also gets pretty bad acne around his hairline if his hair isn’t clean. I regularly remind him that if he chooses to avoid washing his hair he is choosing to have me cut his hair short (or even “shave it off” if I’m really frustrated! You know, just sayin’). He’s even taken to treating his acne with Proactive and is more interested in washing his face now because he knows he’ll lose something that is important to him if he doesn’t. It’s all about their self-interest and not at all about what is important to me, though.
Did you watch the HBO film on Temple Grandin? In one scene, as she’s an adult with a job, her boss walks past her slamming a can of deodorant on her desk and speaks bluntly: “It’s deodorant, Temple. Use it. You stink!” The blunt approach is what works best for my boys. It seems harsh, but as Craig says, the subtle teen clues that other’s use isn’t getting through to our kids.
And to gain more useful and practical tips on raising a happy and successful ASD loved one, see the book, The Autism Survival Guide, by Craig Kendall.
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One Response to “Educating Your Child with Autism about Personal Hygiene”

  1. Barbara Says:

    We have a 23 year old son who refuses to bathe also. He has lost the few friends he’s had over the years because of it. He loves being on the computer so we’ve tied the two together. He’s locked out of the computer until he takes a shower, shaves, puts deodorant, and clean clothes on. Most of the time it doesn’t work. He says we’re cruel and manipulative and we don’t care about his happiness. Of course none of that is true. We’ve applied for SSI over a year ago and we’ve had to appeal twice so far. Once he gets the SSI, then we’ll try again got social security. Once he gets that, we have no other choice but to put him into a residential treatment facility where he can get the help he needs since we can’t do anything else for him him. I love my son, but right now I don’t like him very much. His younger sister fears for her life when she’s around him. She is 4 years younger. This is not a proper life life for any of us. We are all miserable being together. I wish Dr. Phil could help but he’s not responding to my letters, and our son wouldn’t go anyway……..frustrated.


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