Autism and Hygiene: Fun Times with Stinky

by J

This was a post that I had intended to write about a month ago. I am pleased to say that our struggles with S’s hygiene have, for the most part, gone away. I still feel that it is an important topic to discuss though, as many of S’s friends on the spectrum have similar issues.

S has always loved the tub, but sometime last fall he began to become very stressed at hair washing. I mean, he usually cried a bit at the hair washing/rinsing portion of bath time, but nothing alarming. You know, your typical toddler ‘I don’t want water poured on my head’ kind of deal. No biggie. We just washed it. But then, then it turned into panic. He began to develop such a great anxiety around hair washing, they he became scared of the tub, and soon- the entire bathroom.  So, sometime in last September, we stopped washing his hair.

Now, before you get all grossed out and call CPS on our family, allow me to explain. We were able to compromise by taking a soapy wash cloth and wiping his head, and then a clean wash cloth and wiping away the soap. We didn’t do this every bath- but once or twice a week. Was it a good scalp scrubbing? No. Did his hair feel clean and smell nice? Yes.  And while we were not thrilled with this method, it got the job done and we decided to pick our battles.

Enter February. For some unknown reason, S developed a fear regarding the bath. We don’t know why, but all of the sudden he was terrified of the tub. I’m not talking about just crying he didn’t want a bath- I’m talking about shaking when walking past the bathroom because he was so scared. It was so bad, he didn’t want me to shower or bathe the dog. Other hygiene issues followed- teeth brushing, hair combing, finger nail clipping, etc.

We consulted OT, and she suspected it was possibly sensory related and were given all sorts of things to try. We spent the better part of two weeks trying to get S comfy again with the tub. We washed dolls (he protested this) , played with water while in our clothes on the outside of the tub- etc. And while it was progress getting him into the bathroom, we could not get him into the tub.

Then, S got really, really sick. It was so sad. He was vomiting for 4 straight days and did not eat for a full 5. (the resulting issues with food will be another post.) Anyway, over the course of this time, S had not bathed in two weeks, and had now spent a week puking on himself and in his hair. We had no choice. We HAD to bathe him. OT suggested that this might be a quick ‘reset’ to the bathing issues. That since he was so sick, and so weak, that he might not have the energy to fight the bath.

So, in the bath he went. It was awful. He screamed, and cried and shook. He clung to me for what felt like forever when I finally removed him from the tub. He was so clean though and for the first time since September of last year, his hair had been washed.

It did NOT reset. He still hated the bath.

Finally, about a week later I found bath bubbles with a popular Disney theme on it that he loves. Turns out, some $4.99 bubbles were just what he needed to get over the hump. He took about another week of slowing introducing the bath again. But, he really wanted those bubbles. He now had something to work towards. It took a while, but he finally got up the nerve to get back in the tub. And with the return of baths, returned teeth brushing and nail clipping. We are still working on hair combing and *sigh* his hair has not been washed since February.  We still are not able to wash him with a wash cloth, but, my boy is clean (ish) and happy in the tub. And you know what?, I’ll take what I can get.