Teaching Your Autistic Teen About Hygiene

Many autistic people have trouble with self-help skills, like clothing and personal hygiene. I hear on many autism parent blogs that their child cannot bruth their teeth independnently, is incontinent at an age where accidents are no longer normal, etc. These are obvious self-help difficulties, but there are many more subtle problems with hygiene that even many more capable adult swith autism deal with.

First, many autistics are unaware of the social rules of hygiene. I remember my sister gave me deodorant for my fourteenth birthday and I still didn’t get the hint. I didn’t have an aversion to grooming as much as I was unaware of the changing rules that came with puberty. Similarly, I remember going to the school doctor at age fifteen and, when being asked to undress, realizing I’d forgotten to put on a bra. It is important, when teaching autistic children and teens about hygiene, to explicitly talk them through the changing norms that come as your child ages. Just because your teen boy knows how to work a shaving tool, doesn’t mean he knows or remembers when to use it.

Another problem in self-care may be an autistic person’s sensory aversion to certain tastes or textures, such as that of certain clothing, shampoo or toothpaste. With regard to clothing, comfort goes before style. It’s okay to tell your child that children aged twelve don’t usually wear sweat pants, but don’t ridicule them or try to force them to wear jeans if they’re uncofmortable. If your child is bullied, that’s not their fault even if you as the parent too see them as an easy target. Don’t make it worse by blaming yoru child.

Whn it comes to hygiene, sometimes comfort has to go. I for one refused to use toothpaste until I was eighteen, because even the kids’ toothpaste had too sharp a taste for me to cope with. I started usign toothpaste only because having the dentist need to fill seven cavities was worse. A few years ago, I again developed a problem with toothbrushing that I still haven’t gotten over.

Lastly, this may seem a bit TMI, but please do teach your autistic preteen girl about menstruation. It can be a very scary experience having your body change in general, and menstruation is overwhelmign to many NT women. Therefore, it’s logical that it causes great distress to many autistic teens. Preparing your teen for what will come can be done using simulation, such as with red wine on a pad. That’s what some kids in my sister’s class did when doing a presentation on puberty. Again, remind your daughter to take pads with her at all times. If menstruation is too overwhelming, your teen girl may consider birth control. Most birth control pills cause lighter, shorter, more regular and less painful periods, while some birth control methods eliminate periods completely.

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19 thoughts on “Teaching Your Autistic Teen About Hygiene

  1. A great post. ASD teens and hygiene don’t natuarally go together. Over the years we had so many rows with my eldest about his insistence on always wearing the same thing and refusal to wear jeans. It is only now that we understand that there is an actual sensory issue behind this.

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  2. I have a child with asd who is only 4 years old at the moment so all this seems quite far away, but there’s always new challenges for them at every age! useful advice for me to bear in mind for the future

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  3. Great to see more information about what life is like with Autism reaching a wider audience. I follow Penelope Trunk who often talks about Aspergers and how it impacts on day-to-day life. It makes all the difference hearing it from someone who knows first hand rather than a clinician.

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  4. Very informative. It may seem like common sense but you have to be very explicit about things like this to Autistic children. I have to say teenage boys in general seem to have poorer hygiene than girls in my experience. I know I still have to remind my teenage son to brush his teeth and use deodorant.

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  5. I’ve had to have some very frank talks with my autistic teen about hygiene, especially in the manly areas. I’m blessed that my son has always felt comfortable talking to me about anything, so we can have a very open dialogue. That’s not to say that I don’t end up counting how many pairs of pants he’s put in the wash in a week, and finding the figure severly lacking lol x

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  6. A really helpful post. My ASD son is almost 12 and it has dawned on me that I need to sit him down and teach him the new “rules” of puberty. He has already started that phase (early) and like you say, he “knows” about keeping clean but I think he’s so rules based it’s MUCH easier if I explain that he now will shower each day, wash his hair etc. We have swapped his visual checklist for a word list on his wall near his light switch now and this works quite well. If it isn’t on his list – it doesn’t happen. I have also introduced some “fines” – rules which incur a £1 fine if ignored as he would stuff dirty clothes under his bed ad infinitum otherwise. It’s a steep learning curve, thanks so much for this really helpful info.

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    1. TwinsPlusTwo, I think you raise some important points. Indeed, there need to be consequences for not following rules if the child is otherwise able to remember them and perform the tasks. Have you considered having your son help with the laundry, so that he will learn how much work it is and that shoving his laundry under the bed will make it harder for you to collect it? I still shove dirty laundry on a pile, but I know it means collecting it myself. That plus a social story about keeping his room neat may help. I still have a lot of difficulty realizing the importnce of keeping my room neat, reasoning that if I can find my stuff and it doesn’t bother me, it shouldn’t be anyone else’s problem either.

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