Many children with autism have hygiene issues. They may resist washing, brushing their teeth, combing their hair, etc. This can turn into daily struggles and arguments. As they get older, poor hygiene habits can cause problems socially. It's difficult for anyone to carry on a conversation with someone who has bad breath or body odor. In middle and high school having bad hygiene is social suicide.
Some of these difficulties may be, in part, due to poor executive function skills. Most of us don't have to think about every step of washing our hair or brushing our teeth. We have done it so many times that we are able to do it without thinking. For individuals with executive function issues these everyday tasks require conscious thought and planning. So these individuals may skip steps or forget to include the basics in their daily hygiene routine.
It is not unusual for some people to wet their hair, put shampoo on their hair and lather up, but to forget to rinse the shampoo out. This is just one example of skipping a step due to poor executive function skills. Incidents like these can be frustrating to both the parent and the child. If your child has already bathed, chances are, he will not be happy about having to get wet again to rinse his hair.
When your child is little you do these things for him. But at some point he has to take care of his body's daily needs on his own. Here is one idea you may want to try. Write the steps of bathing on the shower or bathtub wall with a soap crayon. You can purchase these at many department stores and they are inexpensive. Once he has finished a step he can cross it off with a soap crayon or “erase” that step with a wash cloth. If you write the steps in a different place in the tub each day, you may find that your tub gets cleaner as well!
For activities that take place at the sink such as brushing teeth and washing hands, you can write the steps on your mirror with a window marker. Or you can always tape a paper list to the mirror – whichever works better for you. There are other reasons for having hygiene issues and I will offer more ideas and suggestions in future posts so stay tuned! And please feel free to comment or email with your questions and things that have worked for you.