Teaching Children with Autism Hygiene Skills


Teaching personal Hygiene Skills to Children with Autism

Developing personal hygiene skills is important for all children, but it can be difficult for children with Autism. Some young people with Autism may find personal hygiene uncomfortable because they have sensory issues, such as a heightened sense of touch or texture. It can be challenging for parents to teach personal hygiene skills to their children, but there are ways to help.    

Why Do You Teach Hygiene Skills Through ABA Therapy?

One common goal of ABA THERAPY is to teach individuals with Autism the skills they need to function independently. This may include teaching basic hygiene skills such as brushing teeth, washing hands and using the toilet. While these skills may seem simple, they can be very challenging for individuals with Autism.

There are many reasons why hygiene skills may be part of an ABA therapy plan. One reason is that these skills are essential for independent living. Teaching individuals with Autism how to perform basic hygiene tasks can help them live more independently and reduce their reliance on others.

Independence in hygiene skills can also increase social skills. Many social skills, such as making eye contact and following instructions, are needed to learn and perform basic hygiene tasks. By teaching these skills in ABA Therapy, individuals with Autism can learn to communicate effectively with others using skills both applicable to personal hygiene and social skills.

ABA Therapy can also help improve fine motor skills, which are important for brushing teeth and combing hair. Many of the activities involved in ABA Therapy, such as sorting objects and matching shapes, can help improve fine motor skills. When fine motor skill development is a concern, ABA therapists collaborate with occupational therapists to increase development of these skills.

When personal hygiene is a component of an ABA therapy plan for people with Autism, this can lead to improvement in both health and well-being. The risks of poor oral hygiene reduces when individuals are taught to tolerate these routines and even complete them independently. ABA therapists strive to teach these necessary skills in a fun and engaging way.

There are a few things to remember when teaching children personal hygiene.

  1. Use a direct and concise teaching style. It means being very clear and specific in your instructions.
  2. Breaking down the task into smaller steps. For example, if you teach a child how to brush their teeth, you would first demonstrate how to do it yourself. Next you would break down the routine into small steps that can be practiced individually. Then you would have the child imitate what you did and help them with the steps that are more challenging for them. After that, you would have the child do the task independently for each step they can and slowly build up to them doing each step of the whole routine independently.
  3. Be patient. Teaching personal hygiene skills can take some time. It is important to be patient and not get frustrated. These skills take a lot of work and your child is likely more frustrated than you are, so model patience and acceptance as they learn.
  4. Use positive reinforcement. When the child completes a task, be sure to praise them! It will motivate them to continue learning.
  5. Be consistent. It is important to be consistent with the personal hygiene routines that you teach. It will help the child to remember what they need to do.

Teaching Personal Hygiene Skills:

It is important to start with the basics when teaching personal hygiene skills to neurodivergent children. Some basic skills that are taught include: 

-Washing hands 

-Brushing teeth 



-Using the toilet

How to Start? 

Practice a specific Personal Hygiene Skill Twice Per Day

Focus on teaching independence in one personal hygiene skill each day and help them with the others that need to be completed daily. Practice that one hygiene skill twice per day. When teaching a brand new skill or routine, it is easier to practice that one routine multiple times rather than four or more different routines each day. More consistent exposure and dedicated practice with the routine will help your child with Autism gain the experience needed to slowly gain independence with the skill. This can help to make sure that children master the pertinent information.  

Use Visual Aids 

Visual Aids can help teach hygiene skills. Place pictures of a person performing the task or pictures of each major step of the task. For example, if you are trying to teach correct hand-washing, put a picture of someone washing hands in the place of the sink or place 10 pictures of the 10 steps it takes to wash hands. This may include a picture of turning on the water, a picture of getting soap, a picture of scrubbing, and so on. The same formula applies to teaching the children how to wear a dress. Try putting child-sized clothes on a child-sized picture and use this as a guide. It is important these pictures are placed in the area where your child will be completing this task and will see it frequently. You can use the visual aid to teach them the steps then allow them to use the visual aid by themselves. 

Maintain Consistency in Teaching 

Remain consistent in teaching personal hygiene skills. Autistic children often benefit from routine and predictability, so using the same schedule can help with consistency. Try using the same cue each time you need to teach a certain skill. For instance, if your goal is to teach the child to start brushing their teeth, you may say, “it’s time to brush your teeth.” It will help the child to learn that brushing their teeth happens at a specific time every day.  
Model How to do it 
Show the children how to do it – brush your teeth in front of the child and encourage the child to follow. Praise their attempts to imitate what you are modeling to them. Always have a set of your equipment ready to model. Children can learn a lot faster by seeing you do it over and over again. 
Prefer Natural Approach 
Try to use the natural environment and every day language when teaching hygiene skills. A natural approach is always the best when teaching a child. This way children may learn in an encouraging and less stressful environment. When a child on the Autism Spectrum completes an unfamiliar task, they may feel scared. Hence, it is important to instill confidence by making the event a common every day activity.
Appreciate with Rewards 
Offer rewards when a child brings hygiene skills to life. Using rewards is a good way to reinforce the skills learned by providing something of value after the routine is completed. As the child learns the skill, they may see more and more value in simply just completing the task. We each learn the value of completing a task by seeing a positive result (e.g. brushing your teeth consistently means less tooth pain). You can offer a reward whenever the child completes a hygiene task. It will strengthen the child’s motivation to complete the task. You can also provide more of a reward when the child completes hygiene tasks voluntarily and without any help. For instance, if you teach your child to brush their teeth, you may reward them every time they accomplish the task.  
Use Pacing Guide 
A pacing guide is one of the best tools that you can use when teaching hygiene to a child with Autism. A pacing guide helps you keep track of the steps you are teaching and how your child is progressing on each one. A pacing guide can also help you gauge the time it will take for the child to progress in their learning.  

Daily Activities as Part of a Routine 

Dedicating time to personal hygiene activities as part of a routine is a good method of ensuring that children have regular time to learn these important skills. These activities can be worked into regular day to day activities such as:

  1. Washing Hands (before and after eating, after messy activities like playing in sand) 
  2. Getting Dressed and Undressed (for exercise or P.E., after playing in the dirt, before going swimming)
  3. Brushing teeth (after lunch) 
  4. Washing Face (after brushing teeth or after playing outside) 
  5. Using the Shower (after swimming)

Remember that your role as a parent is different than that of the therapist. As a parent, you teach hygiene skills related to the child’s development in every day life. Developing good hygiene is not always an easy process, but is a slow and gradual one. 

For Neurodivergent Children, How to Choose What Skills to Teach First?

Personal hygiene covers many skills, so ABA Therapists work with parents to determine which would be most impactful for their family, what works best with their current day-to-day schedule, and what is most appropriate for the child based on their current skill set.

For example, if the child is ready and parents spend ample time at home, therapists may suggest toilet training, which is more intensive than other personal hygiene skills. On the other hand, if they can’t fit toilet training into their family’s life right now, therapists would focus on other, less-intensive skills, like teeth brushing. 

Addressing Privacy Concerns While Teaching Personal Hygiene Skills

Privacy is of the utmost importance when we teach sensitive skills like toilet training. Our therapy teams closely collaborate with parents and caregivers to understand their needs and comfort level. In situations where it is more appropriate for parents to teach the hygiene skill, our team empowers you by providing coaching, support, and strategies specifically designed for your child. If our team is taking a more hands-on role in the teaching, we teach your child with a high degree of respect for their body and personal space.  

Advice for Caregivers

Take it slow! It will be easiest for the child to learn the complete skill if they have positive experiences with each step. Starting slowly and helping the child feel successful and confident will help them build up to completing the skill on their own, so do not rush the learning process. Lean on the therapy team; ABA works best when parents, caregivers, and therapists work together. Empower Therapy has Caregiver Coaching and Support built into the programs – Our ABA Therapists want to give the parents the confidence to integrate training and teaching into the child’s routine.   
Final Thoughts
Empower Therapy strives to help Neurodivergent Children live an independent, full, and healthy life. With customized ABA Therapy plans to meet your child’s specific needs, we address the skills that would most benefit the family. To learn more, check out our ABA Therapy Center near you!