Learn about autism and bathing issues and tips and strategies on what you can do to help make taking a shower or bath easier for them.
Taking a shower or bath can be very overwhelming because there are so many different steps and sensory experiences going on while bathing. Bathing issues can make someone feel shame or guilt for not being able to do this consistently. Please be kind and have an open mind when trying to help someone learn how to take a shower or bath.
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Why an Autistic Individual may have Bathing Issues?
Below are some reasons why an autistic teen or adult may have difficulty with bathing or taking a shower. There could be other reasons as well, since every person is unique, but I hope that this can give you some insight as to whey it may be difficult for them.
Taking a shower or bath is usually a consistent activity that you have to do often in order to help your body stay clean. How often one chooses to bathe is up to them, but we still have to figure out a routine to do it consistently. This can easily feel overwhelming when it is a task that is already difficult for them. So please be kind and approach this topic and skill with kindness. This skill consistently takes planning on how to do it or finding alternative such as using dry shampoo, adult wash cloths, or a rinse less shampoo.
Another area to think about is because showering is something that we have to do constantly, it also takes a lot of mental energy with task switching. They have to be able to transition from the task they are doing to be able to take a shower. This can be very challenging for some. It can also have a big sensory component from switching to a task with clothes on with warmth to switching to a task in a colder bathroom where they have to change body temperatures so quickly.
Additionally, showering or bathing takes a ton of steps. There are a lot of cognitive functioning steps that take place. This takes a lot of executive functioning in order to complete the skill of showering or bathing.
Like I said above, showering or bathing involves a lot of sensory sensitivities. There is the temperature of the bathroom, body, or water. The feeling of the water on the skin, body, or hair. The feeling of shampoo or soap on the hair or body, etc… Then the feeling of having to dry off the body with a towel. There are a lot of different sensory experiences and this can be very overwhelming for someone.
Balance or Motor Planning Difficulties
Taking a shower or a bath also uses a lot of motor planning and balance. Someone who struggles with their balance or motor planning may need extra support with using grab bars, a shower mat, or a shower chair to help with this. They will have to use a lot of physical and mental energy to take a shower if they are struggling with their balance or coordination while washing their hair or body especially with their eyes closed. Closing your eyes when rinsing off can be scary or cause even more balance and coordination issues.
Fear or Anxiety
Lastly, another issue may revolve around fear or anxiety with soap or water going into their eyes or ears. They may have a fear of water in general too, especially if they have trouble swimming. They may have a fear of water going into their nose as well. As these things can be painful.They may also be fearful of the water going down the drain or the sounds the shower and drain make.. This is just another area to consider.
What can we do to help make taking a shower or bath easier for them? Check out all of these tips or alternatives to try out below.
Autism and Bathing Issues: an Autistic Perspective
You can read about bathing and showering struggles from an autistic perspective here. They give you great insight into what it is like and why it can be so hard for autistic individuals. I highly recommend reading and trying to learn from the autistic perspective.
Tips to Help your Autistic Teenager Learn How to take a Shower
As a parent, you notice your teen has been struggling to take care of their body. They have greasy hair, bad body odor, and they are growing more hair on their body. You worry that they won’t learn how to take care of themselves and you worry about what other people will think of them.
Your autistic teenager does not like to take a shower and you feel like you have tried everything to help them. You want to make sure they are getting their body clean and respecting their privacy.
Research has shown that one evidence-based strategy for teaching life skills such as showering is by breaking the skill down into smaller steps by using task analysis.
In order to do this, you must think about the skill and then go through each step as you are doing it and write it down. It can be tricky to do this when a skill comes easily to you. You can complete the step in your head or actually go through the steps and you have to really focus on what specific step you are doing to complete the skill.
I wanted to make this easy for you and I have outlined the steps for showering in this free download for you! You can check out the steps for taking a shower here!
It is important to note, that there are a variety of ways you can take a shower and you can complete some of the steps out of order such as the order of how you wash your body. So don’t feel like you only can use those steps that I have outlined for you. Make sure to complete the steps in an order that feels right for the person you are working with.
Get your Free Showering Checklist
Once you have the steps listed out for how to take a shower, the next thing to do would be to figure out some ideas on how to teach those specific steps.
I wanted to give you some more ideas and tips on how to teach some of those specific steps when it comes to taking a shower.
Another thing to consider is how does the individual you are working with learn information best?
Research has shown that visuals and video modeling can be helpful for individuals with autism to learn new skills.
I have created a toolkit specifically for you to help you teach your autistic teenager or young adult how to take a shower more independently. I give you visuals with real-life photographs of men and women going through the steps of taking a shower. You can check out the Taking a Shower Bundle Here!
Tips on How to Regulate the Water Temperature Before Getting into the Shower or Bathtub
This could be a dangerous skill, make sure a parent is always around when you are working on regulating the temperature of the water. Make sure you are modeling the skill for your child and showing them exactly how to turn on the facet. If you find a consistent temperature that your child likes the water at taking a permanent marker or something to mark where to turn the facet to so they have a visual of where to stop.
If your facet doesn't have labels or color-coding to understand which way to turn on the facet, you can try to add these. You could try adding blue and red stickers to the faucet to visually show hot and cold.
Try using hand over hand physical cues to help them understand how to turn on the faucet in your shower or bathtub. Practice this skill over and over with an adult present to make sure they do not burn themselves and keep repeating until they understand what temperature to place the faucet at.
Tips on How to Wash the Body while in the Shower or Bathtub
If you feel comfortable doing this you could model how to take a shower for your child with you in your swimming suit for modesty. If not, be there in the bathroom with your child and show them the steps you want them to take with how to get their bodies wet with water, how much soap to use, and then how to rinse off their bodies in the water. Show them exactly how to turn their bodies in the water so they can rinse off their front side, backside, private areas, under their arms, and their head. You can also use a handheld showerhead if that makes it easier for your child to reach the areas of their body to fully rinse off and get wet.
Always make sure they are safe in the shower, especially if their balance is a little shaky. Try adding grab bars to the shower. We recommend getting ones where you can drill them into a stud to make sure they are strong and stable (you may want to hire a contractor for this), but if you need there are suction cup grab bars that you will need to check every time you shower to make sure they are stable and locked. You can also add a nonslip mat at the base of the tube to help with traction.
You can try using a washcloth or loofah while in the shower or bathtub to have put the soap on that to wash off their body if they want something to hold onto while washing their bodies. A bar of soap may be too slippery and just placing body wash in their hand may be difficult for them to lather and be able to spread on their entire body. You can also try a long-handled sponge to reach some of those hard areas like our backs or lower legs as well.
When rinsing off their bodies show them how to look around to see if they see soap bubbles on their bodies anywhere and that means that there is still soap on their bodies and we want to wash all of that off before getting out of the shower.
When washing hair, show them which container is shampoo and which one is conditioner. You can write the numbers 1 or 2 on top to tell them which ones to do first or you could add a rubber band around one of the containers for texture if they have some visual difficulties to let them feel which one is the shampoo and which one is the conditioner. If this is difficult for your child you could always purchase 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner to take away one of the steps. Show them how much to put I their hands and giving them a reference like saying it shouldn't be larger than a size of a quarter. If this is something they need to practice, purchase some cheap shampoo or conditioner to help them work on the amount of force they need to use to get out the appropriate amount of soap.
Also, show and tell them how wet their hair and body needs to be before putting soap in their hair or body. Have them practice and tell them when that is enough. Also, show them exactly how much to rub onto their bodies or in their hair by doing it for them, and then having them do it with you and slowly you can stop doing it and have them do it more independently.
When they are done washing and rinsing off their bodies, show them exactly how to turn off the water so they can visually see how to do it. You can again use either a permanent marker or a sticker to show where to stop to turn off the faucet.
Tips for Drying the Body Off
Lastly, working on drying off the body thoroughly can be difficult sometimes. You could physically show them how to use the towel to dry off and then either have them start to dry off by themselves or finish for them because we want to make sure they really get dried off. Keep practicing this skill and show them how to reach all areas of their body. You could show them how to dry off either while standing or sitting to make things a little easier. Make sure you are using a towel with a texture that your child likes so they don't have tactile difficulties. You could try a super soft towel or a quick-drying towel. Another sensory tip, would be if your child likes warm textures, you could use a towel warmer or put the towel in the drier to be warm when they get out of the shower.
During the shower, some individuals may want access to a dry towel or washcloth because they may get soap in their eyes and this can help them feel safer during the shower knowing they can quickly dry their eyes off.
Organizing the Bathroom for Success
How can we set up the bathroom to help our child or teenager to be more independent with bathing?
Assign a specific place for your child to store their showering or bathing supplies. If several of the bottles look alike or are the same shape or size you can add visual differences by writing numbers on them or adding a rubber band or hair tie around the container to differentiate the bottles.
Store the bath towels in an easy-to-reach location and during the shower make sure to keep it in a dry location where it is still within reach to the child or teenager.
If they have vision difficulties make sure to use high contrast colors for items, for example, a white bar of soap is very hard to see against a white tile soap dish. Using high-contrast colors will be easier to see.
Modesty and Privacy
Teaching your teenager modesty and privacy can be huge in keeping them safe. Talk to them about situations where you use public behaviors and private behaviors. Explain why when taking a bath, undressing, touching private parts, or using the toilet is to be done in private. Tell them exactly what types of behaviors are acceptable to do in front of others.
Get the Taking a Shower Bundle Here
I have created a toolkit specifically for you to help you teach your autistic teenager or young adult how to take a shower more independently. I give you visuals with real-life photographs of men and women going through the steps of taking a shower. I also give you tons of more tips and resources to help you navigate how to teach the skill of taking a shower. You can check out the Taking a Shower Bundle Here!
Autism and Bathing Issues
Autism and bathing issues can feel overwhelming because we have to find ways to clean our bodies consistently. This can be a really big challenge when showering and bathing can feel so overwhelming. I hope these tips and strategies can be helpful for you when it comes to teaching taking a shower.
Please be kind when teaching taking a shower or taking a bath. This can be a very sensitive topic and hygiene can make people feel shame or guilt for not being able to do it. Even though something may be easy for you, doesn't mean it will come easy to others.
Also if you are autistic and you are reading this, please don't place your worth on how put together you look. You are not a bad person if you have greasy hair or body odor. I hope you can find strategies that work for you to help make this task easier for you.
I hope these tips can provide you with ideas to best help you teach your autistic teenager how to be more independent with bathing and showering. I know that these skills can take time and patience to learn and a lot of practice and repetition. When practicing these skills be practice safety first and always making sure your child is safe when around hot water.
Please consult your doctor for medical advice or an occupational therapist in your local area for further questions or concerns. We are not responsible for injuries while practicing these skills.
Please let me know in the comments below if these tips are helpful and if there are others that have helped your family! I love hearing from you!