If you have a teen on the autism spectrum, you probably already know that personal hygiene isn't high on their list of priorities. Your teen might not care what others think - they're not the one who is apt to dress to impress. They might have sensitivities that make certain parts of hygiene uncomfortable or painful. They might not see the point of showering every day, finding it to be a waste of time. But you know that good hygiene is essential to good health and that poor hygiene can drive away friends and acquaintances and make your teen susceptible to teasing, being ostracized or being bullied.
If you are trying to find ways to promote hygienic habits in your teen, the following tips may help.
Find out if sensitivities are causing an aversion to showering, brushing teeth or grooming. It could be that brushing teeth hurts or that brushing hair causes pain in the sclap. It could be the scent of some cleansing products are bothersome. Once you discover which parts of daily hygiene are causing sensitivity issue, you can work toward replacing these. For example, electric toothbrushes are sometimes easier on the gums. You might find it helpful to bring your teen to the store and have him/her pick out products, such as unscented cleansers or softer hair brushes.
Pay attention to towels, washclothes, etc. Some of these can be harsh and cause irritation. Have your teen pick out a few soft towels to keep for him/herself. Some teens with ASD find it easier to use a soft sponge to wash their hair rather than using their fingers.
Set rules. Teens on the spectrum usually follow rules. Create specific rules for basic hygiene, such as: you must shower daily and wash your hair three times a week (or more, depending on your teen's activities), you must brush your teeth twice a day, you must wash your face every day. You must change undergarments every day; you must do your wash on a weekly basis. Having specific rules gives your teen a plan to follow.
Look for motivation. If your teen cares about social interactions, talk about how others won't want to be around him/her when they smell or have bad breath. If your teen doesn't care about social interactions, you might need to use other forms of motivation, such as no computer time until he/she has showered or no video games until their completed daily hygiene is done. If your teen cares about their health, talk about how daily hygiene can help keep them healthy.
Create a space in the bathroom for your teen's hygiene products. If your teen is concerned about other family members using the products, make sure everyone knows these products are off-limits. Keeping all the products in one basket or box can help your teen remember all of the hygiene tasks; when each product in the box has been used, they are done.
Have your teen play some favorite music while performing hygiene tasks. If your teen feels anxious or overwhelmed while taking care of his/her hygiene needs, calming music might make it easier.
Have your teen experiment with different towels, shampoos, cleansers, toothbrushes, toothpaste and hair products to find what works best and causes the least irritation. Be patient while they find the best products; once they does, they will be more apt to use them on a regular basis.
For more information on teens on the autism spectrum:
Recognizing Autism in Teens
Special Interest and Teens with Autism or Asperger's Syndrome
8 Tips for Helping Teens with Autism Manage Anger and Frustration
Apps for Teens and Young Adults with Autism
Rigid Thinking in Teens with Asperger's Syndrome