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.
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.
- Social Skills Training. Get your teenager with autism a therapist who can help him or her with social skills training. Once your child begins to understand how to interact with others, to read social cues, they will naturally want to fit in…which requires taking a shower.
- Learn Non-Verbal Communication Skills. To succeed in life, your teenager will have to learn how to communicate with people. If they ever have any hope of getting and KEEPING a job or of having deep, meaningful relationships in life, they must learn how to “read” people. People on the autism spectrum often are blind to non-verbal communication. They do not understand sarcasm, nuanced language, or expressions. But the good news is this can be taught. Will your loved one become an expert? Probably not. But most people with autism can learn how to understand non-verbal communication well enough to succeed and be happy in life.
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.