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Solving Personal Hygiene Problems in
Teenagers with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

As kids get older, they tend to slowly but surely learn personal grooming and hygiene issues. Most teens learn early enough to wear deodorant, brush their teeth, comb their hair and generally try not to smell too bad! And if they forget, their friends are pretty quick to remind them that it is not “cool” to smell like yesterday’s gym socks.

Unfortunately, many kids with autism and Asperger’s syndrome don’t catch on to these societal rules. Many teenagers seem completely oblivious to how they smell … or how bad they smell as this email, which I recently received from a grandmother of a teen can attest.

Hello,

My Grandson is almost 16 (this May) and he has Asperger’s. He is very smart….polite…. and a good kid. He is getting help with school as far as making sure his homework is done and hand in. He has a body smell, feet are the worst!!! He says he does not smell himself at all….. We do!!!!! I bought him Mens Shower gel to use…the bottle should be more empty since it has been a few weeks…he also has to be told most of the time to take a shower. Will this get better??? 18 in 2 years!!! Let me know what you think….. Thank You, Laura

Teens with Autism Lack Understand of Personal Hygiene

Many teens with autism or Asperger’s syndrome simply do not understand societal rules. They are blind to the conventions that dictate daily life. If you ask a teen with Asperger’s why she does not shower, she may look at you with a blank stare…not really understanding why it is such a big deal.

Some teens need to be taught and reminded to do things like shaving and wearing deodorant. Girls will need help learning how to use pads and tampons and learning why they need to do this and why it is important to keep clean when doing so. Buy why is this? Why don’t our loved ones with autism understand these things?

Can’t they tell that they smell?

Well, no they often don’t see the world like you or I or their neurotypical friends. Many teens with autism are preoccupied with a special interest…maybe it is music, or computer, or rock collecting, or any particular subject that consumes them. While they want friends, most do not know how to get them. And ignoring personal hygiene can contribute to the isolation that many teens feel. After all, who wants to hang out with a girl or guy who smells?

Teens with Asperger’s often have few if any friends. And this lack of friends frustrates them. They typically do not understand why they don’t fit in. They try to fit in, but often fail. The lack of understanding of the need for personal hygiene is a classic example of the more overarching challenges that teens with Asperger’s face, and that is poor social skills.

Hygiene Issues are Part of an Overall Lack of Social Skills

If your teenage son or daughter understood how to develop and keep friends, the personal hygiene issue would go away by itself. This is because their friends would start criticizing them and not wanting to hang out with them if they smell bad or look like they just crawled out of bed.

Girls want positive attention from boys. But a girl with bad breath will not get that positive attention.

Neurotypical teens (those NOT on the autism spectrum) instinctively sense when something is wrong. A boy knows that he has done something wrong when a girl rolls her eyes or frowns or says something sarcastic to him. He learns that he got a negative reaction and makes adjustments. He may get feedback from other friends by asking why a girl doesn’t like him. He will learn from mistakes in the game of life.

Teens with Asperger’s Syndrome have Trouble Making Friends

Teenagers with autism are typically poor at developing friends. One reason for this is that they do not pick up on subtleties of speech. They do not notice facial expressions. They miss sarcastic comments. They may take what someone says literally and not understand the underlying message. It is often said that 80% of communication is non-verbal and our teens with autism miss much of this non-verbal communication.

So why don’t our teens have better hygiene?

It is very simple. They do not understand that to fit in, they can’s small bad and pick their nose in public. Neurotypical boys and girls quickly learn this because they can see the reaction of their peers. Autistic kids miss the negative reaction of their peers. This lack of feedback prevents them from understanding that their actions have negative consequences.

What Can Parents do to Help Teens with Autism and Hygiene?

Basically, the hygiene issues are symptoms of the bigger issue which is the lack of understanding of how to develop and keep friends. Poor social skills result in the lack of understanding of the importance of good hygiene. If you solve one problem, you solve the other. Parents should focus on the following two areas to help their teenagers with autism.

More information

For additional tips and suggestions for helping your loved one with Asperger’s syndrome live a happy and successful life, check out The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide and a fantastic book for teenagers, the Asperger’s Syndrome Guide for Teens and Young Adults.

P.S. Don’t wait. Help your loved ones now by buying these fantastic resources. These books have a “100% no question asked full 60-day refund” when purchased from our website.

5 Responses to Solving Personal Hygiene Problems in Teenagers with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome-76

  1. Christina B. Dick says:

    I understand how you feel. I have a 7 year old Aspie that can’t stand the watter and hates to get his hair wet. It has been a challenge for use to get him to take a bath regularly without a fight breaking out. I have to help him buy using the hand held piece to rise the back of his hair first, then allow him to tilt his head forward and put his hands like a barrier around his face to keep the water away from his face. This works well but I still have to remind him to keep the washcloth on the side of the tub to allow him to dry his face if it gets wet. I have also found that while he is doing this I bend his ear down and rinse behind it then he can get that. As for the front of his hair he has got that down’ pretty well. I hold the shower hose out and he moves his head under and rinses his hair and moves out on his own. This creates less stress and likely hood for melt down as he had some sense of control.

    We had a breakthrough last night for cutting his hair as this is an enormous battle. We for the first time in 7 years desided to use the vacume at the same time as the clipper. We showed him that we were going to suck up the hair so it didn’t fall on him and get him itchy. He liked this and with the combined effors of me and my husband he actually got his hair cut to were it looked nice. It was a huge relief.

    As for bathroom time we are still struggling with this as he will go pee and take care of it himself but when he has a bowl movement he has to have an adult with him because he struggles with wipeing himself. He will yell form the bathroom asking us if we are ok to make sure that we are close by to help him. This has been a problem with school as he is trying to integrate in to the everyday classroom but we found that now that he has he will not go the large school bathrooms when the other children are in there and he hold his bowl-movements until her comes home becasue his teachers aid if female and can’t go the bathroom with him.

    It is a struggle for all of us mom’s out there. Keep up the great work everyone!

    From Christina in Alaska!

  2. camilla sherr says:

    How exactly was this little info helpful I wonder?? We all know the issues; you were offering solutions but as far as I can see there are none; except ‘explain to them they will not have friends/a job if they smell’. What kind of advice is that?? I hope your book is better but based on this I’m for sure not buying it!!

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      With a child on the autism spectrum there is an approach that tends to work. First you must understand what MOTIVATES their behavior. They are “rules bound”. They have high sensitivities to noise, the feel of water (this is one reason they do not want to take a shower), etc.
      They do not understand that if they smell they have no friends.
      This one article cannot solve all of your child’s issues. But the article is one page, the books are hundreds of pages long and if you read the books they tell a compelling story of how these techniques work for most (but not all) children and teens.
      People are all motivated by different things. Many children with autism are highly motivated by positive reinforcement. They do not want to get their hair wet but they want a toy more! If you can get a positive reinforcement system in place and BE CONSISTENT AND GIVE IT TIME you will be amazed that there will be break troughs where your child will do what you want because of the reinforcement system.
      These are just a few examples of how I suggest you read these newsletters. If one could solve a child’s sensitivity and hygiene issues with a single short article, then these issues would not exist.

  3. Carol says:

    Dear Craig,

    I can’t tell you how much your emails are helping me and helping me understand the aspects of Asperger’s Syndrome. My son who is now almost 12 does have poor communication problems and with the hygiene, personally, it seems as though it’s getting worse. I have been through many counselors and therapists and I just need to find the right one so thank you on your tip to finding one to help him with the social obstacles. As he gets older, it’s definately more prominent than it was when he was younger like 5 years old. I think I need counseling to help with support for me as I’m a single Mom and don’t really have anyone to call on about it. No one wants to hear about it. My family or my friends. Thanks again for all your wonderful emails.
    Sincerely,
    Carol Ann Schillaci-Adame

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      A few tips. First, with boys and hygiene. They simply do not get it. You have to put it in writing that they a) must brush their teeth; b) take a shower and wash their hair; c) put on deodorant; etc. Then DON’T TRUST THEM TO DO IT ON THEIR OWN. Stand with them in the bathroom and watch them brush their teeth. Feel their hair when they come out of the shower to make sure they washed it thoroughly. You must micro-manage them at this stage.
      To motivate a boy, find something he wants and tell him by not smelling and looking filthy it will help him get what he wants. Perhaps it is more friends. Maybe he wants a toy…he can earn “points” every time he brushes his teeth without being told. After accumulating a certain number of points he can trade them in for the toy he wants.
      Use positive reinforcement. A negative of folks on the autism spectrum is that they are rules bound. But use this to your advantage. Get him used to new rules about hygiene. Once they are established they tend to stick. Good luck.

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