Changing personal hygiene needs for autistic pre-teens and teenagers
When your child was younger, you taught them 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 your child needs to learn new skills for looking after personal hygiene. These skills include knowing when and how to use deodorant, when to put on clean clothes, how to care for pimples, when and how to shave, and how to manage periods. Your child might also need new products that suit their sensory needs – for example, fragrance-free deodorant or particular types of period products.
It’s important for your child to learn how to manage personal hygiene without your help or with less of your help.
Some autistic pre-teens and teenagers will be able to learn new hygiene skills quite easily. But they might not fully understand the reasons for personal hygiene and why they need to change their old routines. You can explain by saying things like, ‘We sweat more when we reach puberty. Most people don’t like the smell of sweat, so we wash, change our clothes and use deodorant regularly’.
Personal hygiene: practical strategies for autistic pre-teens and teenagers
Autistic pre-teens and teenagers are often visual learners.
You can use these tools to help your child learn everyday skills, including personal hygiene skills. You can also use these tools as reminders for your child after they’ve learned new skills.
Visual supports and personal hygiene routines for autistic pre-teens and teenagers
You can use visual supports to break down your child’s hygiene routine into steps. This can help your child learn hygiene skills and put these skills into practice.
Visual 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 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. For example, if your child gets overwhelmed by instructions, it might be best to start with just 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. And your child might find visual supports most helpful if they include photos of their own items and home.
Here’s an example of a schedule for showering. You can put the schedule in the bathroom, where your child will see it every morning.
My 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.
Social stories about personal hygiene for autistic pre-teens and teenagers
Here’s an example of a social story that can help your child understand some of the reasons for 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 personal hygiene skills for autistic pre-teens and teenagers
Video-modelling can help your child learn self-care and personal hygiene skills.
For example, you could video yourself putting on deodorant and watch the video with your child. If you record the video on your child’s phone or tablet, your child could watch the video while putting on deodorant.
You might need to go over these messages and strategies many times with your child. Try to be patient with your child – and yourself. You might find it helps to share experiences and get support from other parents in similar situations.