One of the common skills that many children with autism struggle with is personal hygiene. It’s not a willful ignorance that makes this area a struggle but a lack of social awareness and a dislike of sensory stimulants. It can be difficult to get loved ones with autism to adopt good habits when brushing their teeth because the activity can cause sensory overload so some people would rather avoid it entirely. If your a parent or caregiver that struggles getting your loved one to brush, don’t worry. You’re not alone. At Lexington Services, we work with children and adults with autism to improve many different skills, including brushing teeth, but there are some steps that you can take at home to make the process easier and fun.

First Steps

Each child is unique with their own preferences and every parent is vividly aware that the techniques you might use to get one child to brush will not work for other children, especially with ASD. Autism Speaks is always a great resource to turn to for answers on processes like brushing teeth for young ones with ASD, such as this guide. You should make the process as comfortable and fun as possible while reinforcing its importance. Let them pick out a tooth brush that is unique and fun to them, but make sure that the bristles are soft. Stand behind them and help apply a very small amount of toothpaste, like the size of a pea. You may have to help by guiding their hands, making sure to reach all sides of the teeth in front and in back. You can also help ease some anxiety and help to teach the technique by brushing at the same time. Experts recommend using a timer or singing a favorite song while doing the activity in order to make sure they brush for the recommended two minutes and to make the process more fun. Visual aids in the bathroom can also help children that learn visually to complete the process. While you may have to brush their teeth for them at first, this is a skill that requires some independence so it’s important to at least try to help them form good habits on their own. If you must brush your child’s teeth, try taking turns with them, allowing them to continue to develop necessary skills with you are their back up making sure their teeth and gums are healthy.

Potential Sensory Problems

Part of the reason why this skill in particular is such a struggle area is because of the sensory problems that it poses. Whether your child is hypo or hyper sensitive, there are a lot of roadblocks that make a child choose not to brush. Be aware of the following things:

  • Look for a toothbrush with a wider handle, as it helps children who struggle with motor skills.
  • Understand that sometimes the problem is toothpaste, with minty flavors that can be perceived as a burning sensation or taste. Look for other flavors such as bubblegum or orange. Some kids might even be too sensitive to these flavors, but there are many options on the market that are flavorless.
  • If your child isn’t wild about the foam from toothpaste, there are many inexpensive options on the market that don’t foam up available at your local grocery store.
  • The right toothbrush for the job might not be a standard toothbrush. Some experts recommend using a three sided brush, which do more work in less time.
  • Remember that your hygiene habits might not be the same for them. If you brush with really cold water, that could be the culprit your child is sensitive to. Try lukewarm water while brushing if that’s the case. Find what works for your loved one and make it part of your habits.

Overall, try to track down the source of the discomfort that makes it hard for your child to brush their teeth. Of course, some children will struggle so vehemently at home that help from a professional is required

Get Some Help

If your child absolutely refuses to brush their teeth at home, you might need to enlist the help of a trained therapist, who can work with your child to improve hygiene habits and other crucial skills. At Lexington Services, we employ highly skilled Occupational and Speech therapists that constantly help improve the lives of our members every day. If you are searching for a solution to help your child learn things like how to brush their teeth, Lexington is the place for you. Contact a member of our staff today to learn more about our programs.

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