Personal hygiene skills are critical to helping children live a healthy life. While all children need support with certain hygiene practices, children with autism may need more demonstrations, prompting, and reinforcement to make hygiene part of their daily routine. In this blog, Trumpet’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Amber Valentino answers some of the most common questions parents and caregivers have about helping their child with autism learn personal hygiene skills.
Why Do You Teach Hygiene Skills Through ABA Therapy?
As a child grows, the need for certain hygiene skills will naturally arise. Unlike other independent living skills (like grocery shopping) hygiene isn’t something that can be ignored. Even if an individual doesn’t yet have the ability to brush their teeth or go to the bathroom by themselves, parents and caregivers need to assist with these tasks to maintain the child’s health. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy can meet families and children with autism where they are in terms of their needs and development level. Whether your family needs tips on how to assist your child with hygiene skills or your child is ready to start their own hygiene routine, our therapy teams will create a customized plan made just for you.
Related: Autism & Independent Living Skills
What Hygiene Skills Can Be Taught Through ABA Therapy?
Trumpet has developed hundreds of innovative clinical programs around common personal hygiene topics, like:
- Toilet training
- Teeth brushing
- Hand washing
- Feminine care
To help your child gain independence and participate more fully in their community, our team will start preparing to teach various hygiene skills around the age when children generally learn that specific skill. For example, our therapists would prepare to teach toilet training around age 2 or 3, since most children learn toilet training at this age.
How Do You Teach Hygiene Skills?
Our approach depends on the skill we’re teaching. When teaching routines like teeth brushing or hand washing, we use a “chaining” approach. Using this strategy, we’ll break down the skill into the smallest parts possible. For example, if the end goal is to teach your child to brush their teeth independently, we may start by having them simply touch the toothbrush. Once they become comfortable with that piece of the skill, we’ll add other pieces to the “chain,” like touching a tooth with the toothbrush. By starting small and helping your child gain confidence, we create a positive experience around personal hygiene that promotes skill development.
Many parents prefer to teach more personal skills, like toilet training, themselves. In those cases, we offer support and coaching using ABA best practices. In fact, behavior analysis is what founded toilet training (one of the most popular toilet training books, Toilet Training In Less Than A Day, was authored by two very well known behavior analysts, Dr. Nathan Azrin and Dr. Richard Foxx!). While you’re toilet training, we encourage families to put a heightened focus on visiting the bathroom so your child has ample practice with building a bathroom routine. Reinforcement and prompting should take center stage so your child has a positive experience with using the toilet.
How Do You Address 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 their comfort level. In cases where parents prefer to teach the 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 training, we teach your child with a high degree of respect for their body and personal space.
How Do You Choose What Skills To Teach First?
Personal hygiene covers a large number of skills, so we work with parents to determine which would be most impactful for their family and what works best with their current day-to-day schedule. For example, if you’re spending a lot of time at home, we may suggest toilet training since it’s more intensive than some other personal hygiene skills. On the other hand, if you can’t fit toilet training into your life right now, we would focus on other, less-intensive skills, like tooth brushing.
What Advice Do You Have For Caregivers Teaching Hygiene Skills?
Take it slow! It will be easiest for your child to learn the complete skill if they have positive experiences with each step. Starting slowly and helping your child feel successful and confident will help them build up to the complete skill, so don’t feel like you need to rush it. And, lean on your therapy team. ABA works best when parents, caregivers, and therapists are all working together. That’s why we have caregiver coaching and support built into our programs – we want to give you the confidence to integrate training and teaching into your routine with your child.
Trumpet is here to help your child gain independence and live a full, healthy life. With customized autism therapy plans to meet your child’s specific needs, we address the skills that would most benefit your family. To learn more, find an autism therapy center near you!
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