Autistic teenagers and changing personal hygiene needs
When your teenage child was younger, you taught your child the basics of good hygiene – how to brush teeth, have a shower or bath, wash and brush hair, wash hands and blow their nose.
In adolescence, your child’s changing body means that personal hygiene routines need to change. For example, your child needs to learn how to use deodorant, when to put on clean clothes and how to care for pimples. Boys need to know when and how to shave and girls need to learn how to manage periods.
It’s also important for your child to learn how to manage personal hygiene without your help, or with less of your help.
Personal hygiene: practical strategies for autistic teenagers
Autistic teenagers are often visual learners. Also, they often learn best by doing rather than watching or listening.
This means that tools like visual supports, social stories, and video-modelling can be really good ways of helping autistic teenagers learn and use personal hygiene skills.
Visual supports to help autistic teenagers learn about personal hygiene
You can use visual supports to break down your child’s routine into steps. This can help your child learn independent hygiene skills and put these skills into practice. These supports can include schedules that use words, pictures or both.
Schedules can cover your child’s whole hygiene routine – for example, shower, wash face, brush teeth, put on deodorant, brush hair. Or you can also use schedules for just one part of your child’s routine, like showering.
When you’re making a visual schedule, you can think about what works for your child. If your child gets overwhelmed by a lot of instructions, it might be best to start with one part of your child’s routine. Over time you can cover more of your child’s routine or make schedules for other parts of the routine.
Here’s an example of a showering schedule:
- Wash my face, arms, stomach, feet and legs with soap and a face washer.
- Wash under my armpits with soap.
- Wash around my vagina/penis with soap.
- After the shower, dry my body with a towel.
- Dry my face, arms, stomach, feet and legs with a towel.
- Dry my armpits with a towel.
- Dry around my vagina/penis with a towel.
- Put deodorant under my armpits.
- Get dressed into clean clothes.
Put the schedule up in the bathroom where your child will see it every morning.
Social stories to help autistic teenagers learn about personal hygiene
Here’s an example of a social story that can help your child understand some of the social rules behind personal hygiene, as well as hygiene skills.
A social story about sweating, washing and deodorant
I might notice that I am sweating more.
Sweating is when my body releases small amounts of fluid to help me cool down.
I might notice this when it’s hot outside, when I am nervous, or when I am playing sport.
Most people don’t like the smell of sweat, so I need to wash myself every day.
After my shower, I should use deodorant under my arms.
This might feel strange. This is OK.
Deodorant will help to stop my body smelling.
Video-modelling to help autistic teenagers learn about personal hygiene
Video-modelling can help your child learn self-care skills. You could video yourself putting on deodorant and watch the video with your child. If you record the video on your child’s smartphone or tablet, your child could watch the video while putting deodorant on.