Autism and Bathing Issues: Tips on How to Help

Autism and Bathing Issues: Tips on How to Help

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.

*This post contains affiliate links. There is no extra cost to you, but will greatly help our family. Please see our disclosure statement for further details.

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.

Consistent Activity

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.

Task Switching

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.

Executive Function

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.

Sensory Sensitivities

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

Autism and Bathing Issues: Taking a Shower Checklist Freebie Preview

Get the steps written out for you in this taking a shower steps freebie! 

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

Autism and Bathing Issues: Taking a Shower Bundle Toolkit Preview

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!

Autism and Bathing Issues: How to teach autistic teenagers how to shower and bathe
Tips to Improve Showering and Bathing for Children with Sensory Processing Difficulties

Tips to Improve Showering and Bathing for Children with Sensory Processing Difficulties

*This post contains affiliate links. There is no extra cost to you, but if you purchase something through our links this will greatly help our family. Please read more about our disclosure here.

Showering and Bathing Tips for Children with Sensory Processing Difficulties

My brother has always had a difficult time with taking baths and showers because he hated having water get on his face or in his eyes. Don’t get me wrong he loved being in the water, but as soon as he would be splashed in the face in the pool or we would have to go to wash his hair in the bath, a flood of anxiety and fear would come over him. He has had this difficulty ever since he was little and he is still learning to decrease his anxiety with water on his face. It wasn’t until this year that he has now been able to wash his face and hair more independently (14 years later). We wanted to share the tips and tricks that we have used to help my brother decrease his anxiety with water getting on his face to allow him to be more independent with these skills.

Tips to Decrease Anxiety with Water Getting on the Face for a Child with Sensory Processing Difficulties

What we did first was recognize this was a fear for my brother and we were always patient and understanding with him. Something that my mother has been working on this past year with my brother is working on identifying what his fears are and understanding that fear is an emotion. These emotions can come from what you are thinking, and they have been working on changing his thinking to a positive thought to help him create a solution. So for example, before taking a shower or washing his face at the sink they would state positive statements about putting water on his face. They would say, “I will be able to get my face wet or I am calm and I can do this.”

These were ways that we were slowly able to decrease fear for my brother with getting water on his face.

He was very motivated to go swimming, so during the summer we were constantly at the pool, going to water parks, or playing outside in the sprinkler. He was usually having so much fun during these activities that when he would get water on his face we would always make sure we had a beach towel near by or he would wear a swim shirt that he could use to help wipe off the water on his face to help decrease his anxiety. We were constantly exposing him to activities that were motivating to him where he would be exposed to water on his body.

Other fun ways we would expose him to water were through water balloon fights and using a bubble machine outside with bubbles popping around him. Again, we would always have a towel near by him, but during the activities he was happy and excited having fun!

When we were swimming in the pool, we would constantly be trying to teach him how to hold his breath or blow out of his nose when he would go under water. As well as closing his eyes under water. We would play games to help motivate him to make it more fun. We would always demonstrate for him so he could see how to do it. We would try to make it motivating and be super excited over the top if just the littlest bit of his face touch the water such as his chin. We would give tons and tons of praise and encouragement.

It took us many many years for him to be more comfortable with getting his face wet in the pool, but we never gave up. Even today he still does not prefer to go underwater and we are still working on learning how to swim, but every year we are making progress. We learn to celebrate every little victory along the way.

Now this year, we have been working really hard with being independent with showering and washing our face. Now that we are going through puberty we also get to work on these skills to help us prevent breakouts. We started a new acne medicine for our face this year, so that has also helped increase the motivation for my brother to want to learn the skill so he can decrease the acne. My mother has learned to be so patient with him in helping him learn these skills.

These are ways that we have helped him learn to wash his face on his own:

  • He used a face mist blower (something he liked) to help him get used to the feeling of water on his face.
  • He would wash his face at the sink with just a wet wash cloth (my mother would have to do it first, then she would have him slowly increase his ability to use the wash cloth himself)
  • They slowly increased splashing water on his face by getting his hands wet and having him touch his face then slowly add more water over time.
  • Finally, they had him get in the shower and use a wash cloth in the shower to wash his face.
  • NOTE: He would always have a dry wash cloth or towel right next to him so that he could dry his face off if it was too much for him.
  • This was a very long process and took a lot of patience and practice. We think it went better for him this year because he was motivated to get rid of the acne on his face.

These are ways that we helped him learn to shower more independently:

  • In the beginning my mom would be in the bathroom and available for him if he needed anything, this helped to decrease the anxiety.
  • We first talked about the importance of why we need to take a shower and how we need to smell good when we are around other people. This was the first year that he has ever mentioned that he wants to get married (over the past two years my sister and I both got married and he realized that he would need to get married if he wants to carry our families last name). So my mom would make sure to talk about how if he wants to get a girl friend he needs to smell nice and this has been motivating to him.
  • When they were at the dermatologist, my mother had the doctor explain the importance of showering and washing our face to him, which had a bigger impact on him then my mom telling him that. He seems to do well with taking advice from doctors.
  • While my brother was taking the shower there was always a towel available hanging over the edge of the shower.
  • To wash his hair, my mom would use a large cup and place a was cloth over his face and he would tilt his head back and let my mom wash his hair for him. They would slowly transition away from this by having him participate more with washing his hair and having him do more of it on his own, such as having him put the shampoo in or slowly pour some water on his head.
  • Washing his hair is something he has always had a really hard time with and he still needs help at times from my mom to help him, but he is doing so much more of it on his own! He will be doing it on his own in no time!
  • Also they learned that he does better with taking a shower night before going to bed as the warm water helps him go to sleep. Try to figure out the best time of day that works for your child.

Here are some other strategies that we have used over the years to help decrease anxiety as well:

  • Installing a “rain” shower head
  • Installing a handheld shower nozzle to give him a sense of control
  • Sometimes we would just take a bath
  • Warm up the bathroom ahead of time to make the temperature change less dramatic
  • Play music while in the shower or bath for fun and a distraction
  • Have fun bath toys in the shower or bath tub
  • Mr. Bubbles foam soap for fun in the bath
  • Using a schedule and sticking to it. When we figured out a night time routine worked well we have been sticking with it.
  • We would sometimes use baby wipes to help clean off at times
  • We have heard dry shampoo can be helpful
  • When we used a wash cloth or shampooing his hair we tried to use slow deep pressure. Slow deep pressure is more organizing than light touch.
  • Finding soap products that they like (some kids prefer scents and some prefer no scents) Allow them to participate in picking out the soaps to give them more independence.
  • Use motivators whenever possible. We were constantly trying to figure out what motivated my brother to help make it more fun and turn it into a goal that he wanted to meet!

We hope that these tips and suggestions can be helpful for you and your family to help make bathing a better routine for everyone. As a family we are always working on this skill and taking it day by day and celebrating every little victory. We would love to learn if you have more suggestions that have worked for your family!

Does your child or teen struggle with personal hygiene skills due to sensory challenges? Check out our free Personal Hygiene Sensory Strategies Toolkit for help!

Personal Hygiene Sensory Strategies Toolkit #sensory

Does your child have difficulty learning personal hygiene self care skills? Check out our Ebook Everyday Life Skills Personal Hygiene Skills in the Bathroom for TONS of tips and resources to help your loved one become more independent with these skills!


Please let these suggestions remind you that you are not alone and together we can grow and learn from each other.


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