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Hygiene lessons for children with autism can be made fun, here's how

Autism affects one in 59 children and refers to a group of complex neurodevelopment disorders that affect the social, communication and general behavior of a person affected with the disorder. The severity, signs and effects vary from person to person.

Teaching everyday life skills to children with autism tends to be quite challenging but teaching them is a must. Today we talk about teaching basic hygiene lessons.

Some basic hygiene related activities or tasks are taking a shower, bathing, brushing teeth, using the toilet, washing hands and face, brushing or combing hair.

Teaching these skills is vital for many reaaons say experts.

Play and learning are main the occupations of the child. An occupational therapist helps kids with different impairments, be it visual, physical, hearing, or cognitive, to help them achieve age appropriate independence in day-to-day life. - Dr. Dhara Desai, Senior Occupational Therapist - Prayatna Early Intervention Center

It is advisable to help children learn these skills and perform them independently. This will help them stay clean and fresh and instil a sense of confidence.

- To teach about these skills, good communication is vital and so is having fun. Make the learning entertaining by using different approaches and aids.

- Use of pictures and songs about cleaning body parts can help children learn about brushing their teeth, bathing or taking shower.

- Show them pictures about taking a bath, washing hands, cleaning their teeth, let them touch and feel the tools involved such as a soap, brush, cleaning cloth, loofah.

- Start with simple steps such as how to open and close taps.

- Guide them through the various steps involved in maintaining hygiene. Like open the tap, wet your hands, take some hand-wash liquid or soap, rub your hands etc.

- Use verbal cues such as first we do this, then you can do this and so on. The communication will help the child understand what is expected.

- Use social stories to help the child understand why keeping clean is important.

- Make sure the facility they are using is safe for them. Grab bars, non-slip mats can be installed in bathrooms if they have balance issues.

- Children with autism hate breaks in patterns and routines. Before starting some new activity, let the child know beforehand. Set some timers or time trackers and let them know what is to be done at the end of a certain time.

- You can label the various things in the bathroom for better understanding such as shampoo and conditioner or direction of taps.

- Show them the amount of stuff needed such as the quantity of toothpaste or the amount of shampoo needed for single wash.

- Tell the child to use water until the soap bubbles are seen on the body. Help them understand how to turn their bodies' to ensure all body parts are cleaned in shower.

- Be patient and explain the various steps slowly. Do not rush the children or they may reject the whole activity.

- Repeat the lessons till the children get into the habit of maintain hygiene regularly.

- Children learn from coping other family members and habits can be taught by setting examples.

"Early intervention and sessions with an occupational therapist are very useful in teaching children with autism", says Gayathri Sridhar, who has a son with autism and is a member of the well-known Chennai-based parent support group, Special Child Assistance Network (SCAN). "It is important to stick to small instructions and teaching them by setting examples about hygiene at home".

- Praise them for every step taken forward and encourage them to keep trying.

Also children learn by watching their parents so its good to set those examples yourself by practising what you preach.

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