LLB, LLM, LPC
While the world recovers from this pandemic the one thing we are all thinking about is hygiene – it has become the centre of attention, how important it is, how difficult it can be and how to maintain it. In our home we are always taking tips from our autistic adult on how to clean surfaces, clothes and dishes. Personal hygiene may prove to be a bit harder, especially at different points of the spectrum, when trying to teach these practices to non-verbal persons or with sensory overload to touch and smell.
Start by adding the activity of washing hands to their routine. Whether it’s PECS, a handwritten column or a verbal communication, washing hands should be placed at key times in the day. For example, after using the bathroom, before and after consuming food or after being outside the household. While they wash their hands, or while you are washing their hands, count to 20 out loud. This method also works when brushing teeth; try counting up to ten for each side and the tongue. Timing adds another dimension to dull task and it protects their teeth from unwanted deterioration. It also helps them know what to expect each time they undertake the activity.
If hand gel is an option, introduce it in strategic places like by the front door or in the car. If they dislike it due to texture or smell it is still worth trying to introduce it into the routine even if they wipe it off or use water after.
Avoiding touching their face will be a bit more difficult. You can try moving their hands if you see them picking or touching their face, but that may be unrealistic. Therefore, you can try some things in addition to that. Perhaps, pictures on PECS with humans putting hands in their mouth and making a verbal or physical gesture to signify that this is not allowed. If their sensory overload allows it, introduce gloves when you are outside the household. You can also make sure that they use wipes or tissues if they are picking something in their mouth or eyes or when they sneeze and cough. If possible, walk them to the bin after a tissue has been used and ensure they throw it away and wash their hands/use antibacterial gel. Maintaining a healthy hand-washing or antibacterial-gel-using routine will limit the risk face touching or contact with outside object may pose.
While change is not something we see often in a spectrum routine, and it may not be welcome right now especially with all the other changes they have to endure, hygiene has to become a habit and a staple in every day routine. Over time, just like in our household, they will get used to the counting, the washing and the limited touching. As always, leading by example will be key as they see and understand much more than we give them credit for.