How do I teach my child with Autism basic grooming skills?

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Answered by: Shawna, An Expert in the Family Life and Autism Category
Tips for Grooming the Autistic Child

Approximately 1.5 million Americans are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to Autism Speaks. Parents raising these special kids face many unique challenges, one of these challenges being basic grooming skills. Having raised three sons with varying degrees of ASD, I have learned some tricks along the way. Here are some of the tips for grooming the autistic child that have worked for me.

Choose Your Battle

Do not waste your time fighting a losing battle. This is the most important tip that I learned. Many children with ASD face various sensory issues. Some self-help skills will always be beyond what they can tolerate. Children with tactile issues are not going to be happy being made to hold a toothbrush, for instance.

Let them make decisions that do not hurt themselves or others. One area of grooming where this works is letting them pick out their clothes. Their outfits may not be color coordinated but this builds self-confidence as well as decision making skills. When it comes to proper hygiene, brushing teeth and bathing, some creativity may be needed. If your child has a favorite activity, like watching cartoons, this can be used to motivate them. For example, they must take their bath before they can watch their favorite show.

Tips for Hair Cutting

My oldest son hated to have his hair cut. I remember his first trip to the barber's was a complete disaster. He left the barber shop with both ears bleeding and three bald spots. Not only was he traumatized but so was the barber. After that experience he wanted his hair long. Since this was a decision that did not hurt anyone else, I accepted it.

If your child is scared of the barber's or scissors, try letting it grow. When it gets too long you can put it in a braid. If long hair is just not acceptable, try cutting it when they are sleeping. This works well with young children, not as well as they get older. Another tip is to use clippers instead of scissors. Many kids with autism like the vibration of the clippers and will tolerate having their hair cut this way.

Clipping Finger & Toe Nails

Just the sight of a pair of nail clippers can send my boys into a meltdown. When they were little, I cut their nails while they were sleeping. When this trick no longer worked, I tried clipping my nails first. I have learned that over time, and with enough patience, they can be desensitized to the experience. Try cutting just one or two nails at a time. This method may take longer but makes the experience more tolerable for your child.

As parents and "per se normal" people we take many things for granted. We should try and see the world from our children's perspective. Having a grown up come along and cut pieces of you away is probably quite frightening.

Bathing & Dressing

Many parents of kids with autism use hand-over-hand as a teaching method. This method is very effective for teaching your child basic grooming skills. Over time, the parent removes their hands until the child is accomplishing the skill on their own. At this stage some verbal cues may still be necessary.

Some children on the spectrum have sensory issues with water. One of my sons did not like his head wet. Some bathing tricks I used for him were to let him stand up in the bathtub and wash his face and hair last.

Get Creative

Do not be afraid to be creative. Having spent thirty years raising my special boys, I have come up with some creative parenting ideas. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder share a lot of the same behaviors and sensory issues, but they are not all the same. Behind the odd behaviors are unique little people. What tricks or ideas work with one child may not work on another.

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