Autistic children often have difficulties with learning appropriate social behavior and this can make them the target of teasing and bullying. In their book, Quirky Kids, Perri Klass and Eileen Costello discuss the areas of personal hygiene and grooming and give advice to parents and caregivers. With perseverance and effort, many autistic children can learn these skills.
Autistic Children and Toilet Training
It is not uncommon for a child with autism to be four to six years old before they master using the toilet. Understandably this can be a source of friction and frustration. While a three-year old can still fit into diapers, it is not so easy to diaper a six year old. A child who soils himself at school will attract negative attention.
In some cases the slowness to use the toilet may be due to developmental problems The child may be out of touch with his body and physiological impulses and struggles to respond to toileting urges.
The keys to successful toilet training are patience, perseverance and creativity. Explain how a toilet works and give awards and stars for flushing and wiping. If the seat is too hard or cold, put a soft cover on it. Do whatever is necessary to help the child.
Autistic Children and Personal Hygiene
As a child grows, responsibility for personal hygiene is transferred to him stage by stage. With autistic children this process may take longer and the parent may have to give daily specific instructions of how to keep skin and hair clean. Here are some suggestions to consider:
- If the child has balance problems, consider a shower chair for use while washing hair.
- Goggles protect eyes from shampoo and water.
- Allow the child to try several brands of toothpaste until he finds one he is comfortable with.
- Teach the child how to clean his face and under his nails.
- Remind the child to wash his hair if it looks oily.
- Teenagers need to shower daily and wear deodorant.
Many autistic children have problems with fine motor control and will need assistance with brushing their teeth and washing their hair.
Autistic Children and Personal Grooming
Autistic children are often oblivious to fashion trends and have favorite outfits that they want to wear every day. Others prefer certain fabrics and are extremely sensitive to seams and tags. Here are some thoughts about clothing autistic children:
- Cut out tags and buy seamless socks and garments if the child is sensitive to seams.
- If a child finds a shirt that he is comfortable in, buy a couple in bigger sizes and put them away.
- Use simple clothing for younger children. Look for things like elastic waists, pullover shirts, Velcro fastenings and slip-on shoes.
- Try and keep the children’s hair and clothing fashionable as even if they don’t care, their peers do.
With effort, perseverance and patience, most autistic children can master the life skills of personal grooming, personal hygiene and toilet training. Parents can help them by teaching these skills and following up on them on a daily basis. Children who smell fresh and are dressed fashionably will have more chance of making friends at school.
Klass, Perri and Eileen Costello, Quirky Kids, Ballantine Books, Random House Publishing, 2003.