Let’s Get Clean Routine

Personal Hygiene Whether your child is a toddler or an adult, there is always room to focus on personal hygiene. For many, taking care of one’s personal needs can be challenging and/or seen as unnecessary by the individual. It’s up to us to help them understand why proper hygiene is important while giving them the skills they need to guide them towards grooming independence.

When is a Good Time to Start?
NOW! If your child is a toddler, start with baby steps of hand-over-hand techniques or let them do it themselves and you come behind and finish the job. For example, with brushing the teeth, it’s great if they will try to do the job by themselves and then you say, “Let me help you finish.”

Hand Washing
Hand washing is a great place to begin. Having a visual schedule breaking the task down into baby steps might be helpful including the following:

  • Turn on water
  • Get soap
  • Make bubbles on hand
  • Rinse bubbles off
  • Turn off water
  • Get towel
  • Dry hands

Initially, you might not see much progress and you might be doing hand-over-hand. Gradually, remove your help in different areas and view the progress. Let your child do it all by himself and you might be surprised by the progress. Begin to back yourself out of the process.

Teaching Other Self Help Skills
As your child becomes comfortable with basic tasks, you can create a visual schedule (using home photos or google images) of each task. I work with adult transition students with severe challenges. We do grooming daily using a visual schedule including:

  • Wash hands,
  • Brush teeth,
  • Put on deodorant,
  • Brush hair and
  • Wash face.

At some point in these students’ lives, each of these tasks was a mountain for their parents and teachers to climb. Now that these students are older, they do each task with little or no prompting. This is a huge leap so I wanted you to see how much the baby steps in younger days really pay off. Many of our students now shave their faces and trim their own nails. One student even uses mouth wash and cologne. They have been taught the importance of grooming throughout their lifetime and it has paid off.

On the other side of this topic, I have many students at age 21, who have never given themselves a bath or washed their own hair. Perhaps they will always need assistance in these areas, but to not give them the “tools” they will need to attempt these tasks on their own, I believe, is a disservice to them. This does not include individuals who are physically unable to attempt the task.

Summary
Many areas – such as teeth brushing and potty training – can be challenging. There are many resources to help parents navigate these areas. Know that you are NOT alone in this journey and that each baby step you take to help your child learn personal hygiene skills will lead to their future success.

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Joanna Keating-Velasco About Joanna Keating-Velasco

Joanna Keating-Velasco has worked with students with various special needs ages 3 through 22 as a Paraprofessional for over twelve years and is currently specializing in adult transition. She has authored two books, A Is for Autism, F Is for Friend and In His Shoes – A Short Journey through Autism. Learn more about Joanna at A is for Autism.




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  • Karen

    Hi Joanna. Do you have any advice for helping a 10 year-old (with ADHD) who knows what to do but refuses to do it? Often, in the evening, he will refuse to brush his teeth or bathe or, if he does it, will not do it thoroughly. If I become insistent, he goes into a rage. He tries to bargain to postpone it, then doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain. For instance, he’ll ask for just 2 more minutes, then run and hide when the time is up. Or, he wants his brother to go first, promising he’ll cooperate, then, when it’s his turn, doesn’t cooperate. To be honest, I’m afraid of him when he rages. He weighs 102 pounds and can be violent.

  • Joanna Keating-Velasco

    Hello Karen. Thanks for your comment. As a mother, I know how frustrating this can be with kids. Since he is still relatively young in age/maturity, you may want to try a FIRST/THEN strategy with a reward of some sort (TV time, iPad time, computer or free time as the THEN). Even if he can read, use a written &visual representation of FIRST the grooming item and THEN the reward. Since he is young enough, you might also try a sticker or star (token) reward system so that each time he does ANY grooming, he earns a positive reinforcement which can be turned in for a reward. Find his favorite thing to do, eat or drink and make him earn it. Perhaps only allow this reward for this work so he doesn’t think “hmmm, I’ll wait and get that later” since he seems to be a shrewd negotiator (manipulator). At my work, we use nickel charts and after 10 nickels, the student gets two quarters to buy a soda. Once he starts that part of the grooming, perhaps have a digital timer set to let him know when he’s done. Kids don’t tend to argue with timers. In 13 years, I’ve never even had a student question one. They ignore me, but not a timer.
    Second, since you have a sibling involved, make sure the sibling is getting rewarded equally too. This will make the sibling happy/proud and also might motivate your other child to get his booty moving.
    Lastly, you are smart to nip this in the bud early b/c 102 pounds can end up in a young man twice your size before you blink. If you don’t set up the “who’s in charge” now, he will set it up for you at twice your size.
    Best wishes.

  • http://special-ism.com/ Special-Ism

    Love, Love, Love this reply, Joanna! I am a huge advocate of positive behavioral solutions and first/then works in our home! Little handmade charts can be made too. Let’s say, pm care routine is in the upstairs bathroom. Post a little chart on the wall with all the grooming steps. For each completed, add a star or assign points. Add up the points at the end of the week for a reward. Then, let’s say downstairs is where they have am care steps before school…another little reward chart can be posted in the kitchen. Also, we use a timer for homework. Prior to the timer, he felt that a worksheet would take “foooooorevvvverrr”. So, we timed him. Once he realized that he could complete the worksheets in under 5 minutes, he realized that it did not take forever afterall and he wants to beat or meet the time the next night. – Tiffani

  • Jonmcpam

    Same problems here. Humor, hands-down, does the trick. Any kind of reverse psychology can be hilarious. “Don’t you dare wash your hands!” with a convincing but humorous facial expression. I’ve learned never ever to go directly up against my son. Always sideswipe, duck, and bend, like a Ninja Mom! Sometimes even giving up and walking away and getting sad shocks him into some empathy. Also, having him SIGN a piece of paper saying two minutes – make sure he has his brain in the game. Starting a song that is two minutes long…. I have a handful of these tricks. They don’t always work, but they help.

  • Joanna Keating-Velasco

    Great ideas! And, you are right…sometimes they don’t work; so you go to the next technique, but don’t give up and give in. Negotiation (not manipulation) is fine with me. I work with adults so we definitely respect a good negotiator (and these are students with “severe” challenges…so I really respect this type of thinking. I, too, have learned to duck like a ninja. Sometimes I get into a mental “battle” with a very potentially physical student and the little devil on my shoulder starts to say, “what the heck do you get into this one for?” I’ll tell you that 99.99% of the time, the angel on the other shoulder who sees the child succeed and reach the challenge says, “I knew he could do it!!!” So, there is risk involved in this type of work with students/kids, but the more consistent you are, the more visual techniques you use and the more respect you give to the individual, the more WIN/WIN situations you will have!! I have lots of bite marks, kicks, punches, etc in my history, but they are so far and few between due to treating individuals with RESPECT AND HIGH EXPECTATIONS! Just like we like to be treated, right!? Love the discussion!