Cleveland ABA therapists teach kids hygiene skills

How Our Cleveland ABA Therapists Teach Kids With Autism Personal Hygiene Skills

Most kids struggle at first with independently maintaining good personal hygiene. Kids on the autism spectrum may have a tougher time with it than most. Our Cleveland ABA therapists can help.

It’s important to understand why kids on the spectrum might have more significant difficulties with things like handwashing, teeth-brushing, and washing their body in the bath or shower. Much of it relates directly back to their diagnosis. Some of the skills needed to independently maintain one’s hygiene include:

  • Fine motor skills.
  • Time management/organization.
  • Attention to a non-preferred task.
  • Executive/cognitive functioning.
  • Sensory regulation.
  • Receptive language skills (understanding the directions being communicated with them).
  • Ability to follow multi-step directions.

Some of the key personal hygiene skills we really want kids to master (even if they take some additional time to do it) are:

  • Cleaning/brushing one’s hair.
  • Handwashing.
  • Nose blowing.
  • Toilet training.
  • Oral hygiene (teeth brushing, mouth washing, floss, dental checkups).
  • Nail care (trimming and cleaning fingernails and toenails).
  • Skin care (may vary from child-to-child).
  • Managing periods (for those menstruating).

These are things many of us adults simply take for granted as being simple, everyday chores we don’t think twice about. However, when you truly break each one down into all the individual steps – from recognition of an issue to proper completion – these tasks are more complex than they initially seem.

We like to try working with kids on the spectrum at a very young age on these issues because the earlier we start, the greater their self-sufficiency by the time they reach their teens. Not only is good personal hygiene vital to one’s health and well-being, but poor hygiene is a social stigma that can quickly lead to a child becoming socially ostracized.

Depending on the severity of their condition, your child may continue to need assistance with certain personal hygiene tasks even as they get older. However, the more independence they can gain, the better off they will be in the long-run.

Cleveland ABA Therapists Use “Chaining” to Teach Hygiene Skills to Kids With Autism

Our primary approach when we’re working to teach kids on the autism spectrum how to maintain their personal hygiene is a behavioral therapy technique called “chaining.” It involves breaking down a certain skill into the very smallest parts possible, teaching those skills independently, and then “chaining” them together.

For example, let’s say we’re trying to teach toothbrushing. Kids with autism may have strong sensory aversions to having bristles and toothpaste in their mouth – or even near their face. What we may do is start by working with them just to touch the toothbrush. Eventually we’ll work our way up incrementally to get them comfortable with having the toothbrush in their mouth. Then with moving it around. Then with a little toothpaste.

When we start with the smallest components of a task, it gives the child real success – and confidence – every time they master each little step.

Parent Practice for Personal Hygiene

Lots of parents will prefer to handle certain personal hygiene skills like bathing and toilet training at home. Our Cleveland ABA therapists can help coach parents through these processes, providing tips, visual supports, and reinforcement during our sessions.

Some basic tips we have:

  • Create daily routines. When kids know what to expect, they have an easier time engaging in a task, even if it’s not preferred. Kids on the spectrum especially thrive on routine. Ensuring when possible that these tasks are done at the same time in the same order with the same tools will allow the child to stay better regulated during these tasks and offer more opportunities to practice.
  • Use visual supports. These would be pictures that represent a certain activity, routine, or schedule. If they can read, their might be large, bold, simple text. Visual supports help to create structure and guidance and can reduce anxiety, frustration, and challenging behaviors. Our ABA therapy team can also help parents create a “social story” that the child can read throughout the day or week to help reinforce the lessons you’re trying to teach.
  • Prompting and fading. Prompts are actions that help a child complete a certain task or demonstrate a certain behavior. Prompts can be a verbal instruction or a physical gesture or a visual support. You might start off with a lot of prompts early on when you’re first trying to teach a skill. Then later, as the child begins mastering certain key elements of the task, you can start to “fade” those prompts.

If you are struggling to help your child with autism master certain personal hygiene tasks, our Northeast Ohio ABA therapy providers can help.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

An Approach to Cleanliness Training to Support Bathroom Hygiene among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, February 2018, Behavior Analysis in Practice

More Blog Entries: Stimming with Autism: FAQ With Our Cleveland ABA Therapists, July 24, 2022, Cleveland ABA Therapy Blog