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This article is mommy approved by Miriam Slozberg, mother of two.
One of the most challenging tasks for a parent or caregiver is bathing their autistic child. Autistic children often struggle with sensory overload, and the process of bathing can quickly become a battleground. Often, this leads to stress for both parent and child, making bath time more difficult.
When the parents lose their patience while the child feels overwhelmed for sensory reasons during bath time, it makes the experience unpleasant and stressful for both the child and the parents.
This is why you will want to learn about the 13 tips on bathing a child with autism and teach them the importance of personal hygiene.
Preparing The Tub Before Bath-time Begins Is Essential
When you are filling up the bathtub, the water will flow down quite loudly and splash. Additionally, the lights that you need to put on while filling the tub are quite bright. That is a lot of sound and light for a child with an autism spectrum disorder to bear, especially if their sensory issues are extreme.
This means the best thing to do when you are ready to bathe your autistic child is to prepare the tub before bringing the child into the bathroom. You will also want to dim the lights to the point where there is enough light for you to see what you are doing when bathing the child.
However, it is best to dim enough of the lights to the point that it is not too bright for the child.
The sensory issues during bathtime are a big reason why it is an ordeal. Lights that appear to be natural are the best type of lights for the child. If you don’t have a light dimmer, you will want to invest in one as that alone will help make bathtime for your autistic child easier to handle due to the lights not being so bright.
Only Use Loofahs That Are Soft And Tolerated By The Child With Autism
It was just pointed out that the loud noise from the water coming down the tap into the tub and the bright lights in the bathroom can create a sensory overload for the autistic child. That is one main reason that any child on the autism spectrum isn’t able to handle bathtime.
That also means the rag or towel you are using to wash the child must be gentle to the child’s skin. The ideal thing to use to clean the child is a loofah because the soft texture is much preferred.
That means rags and towels with a rough texture is not a good idea to use for the child with autism. Those textures can be quite offputting to the child.
Use Scent-Free Foamy Soaps And Shampoos
Bright lights, the loud sound of the tub filling up with water, and rough-textured rags are not what a child with autism wants exposure to because of the sensory issues. The same goes for soaps and shampoos that have strong fragrances as well as certain feels.
That can be upsetting to the child and even cause him or her to get sick. The best bet is to stick to scent-free soaps and shampoos while bathing a child with autism. Choose soaps that are foamy instead of slimy. The frothy texture is not nearly as much of a sensory trigger to the child.
That means the child will not be overloaded with strong smells and uncomfortable textures during bathtime, which will alone help make the experience easier for your child – and the parent!
Add Extra Rugs To The Bathroom Floor To Help Drown Out Sounds
The bathroom tiles on the floor, walls, and inside the tub area will cause the bathroom noises to amplify. That also can be quite distressing to the child with autism for sensory reasons because of it being so loud.
Adding extra rugs on the bathroom floor will help absorb the sound to a degree. Additionally, it will also help keep the floor dry as the child will splash the water.
Talk Through Each Bathing Step To The Child
Autistic individuals never feel reassured when they are not able to predict events. They need to know what will happen in a given time. That means it is essential to talk through each bathing step with the child to know what to expect during the bathing process.
If the child knows what to expect, then the anxiety levels will go down, making bathtime much easier.
How You Rinse Your Child Makes An Impact
Does your autistic child have a meltdown when you lean back while bathing him or her? If so, then rinse your child while moving in a forward position because he or she will feel more secure.
It is also a good idea to put swimming goggles on your child so that there is no soap, water, or shampoo going into the eyes.
If the soap stings a typical child’s eyes, it would feel much worse to a child with autism.
Choose Bathing Products That Are Completely Natural
It was already recommended that using fragrance-free bathing products would eliminate the sensory issues that your child would have regarding smells. It is also highly recommended to stick to entirely natural products free of formaldehyde, parabens, or artificial ingredients and coloring.
These will harm their skin, which will cause them to associate bathtime with pain. That is the last thing that any parent would want to happen.
Give Your Child His Or Her Favorite Toys During Bathtime
The one thing that will calm down the child during bathtime involves having their favorite toys in the tub. Another idea is to have some wind-up toys in the tub because the child can watch the toys move through the water as children with autism are fascinated with the cause and effect phenomenon.
It is also a good idea to provide toys with different feels and textures so your child can get used to varying sensations during bath time. This may help them accept the mixed feelings that are felt during bath time as well as long as it is not overwhelming in any way.
Create A Routine That Includes Bathtime
One of the things that upset children with autism is the inability to predict what to expect at a given time. If the child knows that bathtime will happen at a particular time each night, that alone will make it easier to accept.
That is because your child will expect bath time to happen at a particular time.
The Water Temperature Must Be Just Right
The best thing to do is to make sure that the water temperature is at a lukewarm setting. If it is too cold or too hot to the touch, your child will have a hard time handling the water’s temperature. Remember that they have sensory issues that can cause them to be overwhelmed.
Provide Them With Large Sensory-Friendly Towels To Dry Up Quickly
Once bathtime is over, the kids will become very cold quickly, and that will overwhelm them. Ensure that as soon as bath time is done to have large beach-towels that are soft and sensory-friendly to cover them up right away from head to toe.
Once they are dried up and are kept warm with the towel, getting out of the tub will not be a scary experience either.
Have A Bath Time Social Story Created
It is always recommended to prepare children with autism for what to expect on any given day. Social stories are the best way to do that. These children are visual thinkers, and if they see visuals such as social stories, that will help ease their anxieties.
This means a social story about bath time is highly recommended to use and show the child before bath time begins to expect.
Teach The Child About The Importance Of Good Hygiene During Bath Time
Explain to the child using simple terms while washing the child that bath time has to happen to stay clean. Allow the child to clean himself or herself as well by providing buckets for the child to use.
The child can fill up the bucket with the water in the tub and pour it on his or her arm, leg, or body in general. And while the child is washing with the water, explain how they are doing great with it.
Even though the child will not see that he or she is dirty, which can be confusing since kids with autism are literal thinkers, it is important to keep stressing that staying clean is important because it will keep them feeling good. Eventually, they will grasp the importance of daily bathing.
Bathing children with autism can be an ordeal because of the sensory issues and other anxieties that build up during bath time. However, after implementing these steps, you will have fewer battles that will be easier to handle.
Lastly, always be encouraging and patient with your child during bath time; it’ll help transform this into a positive experience and help them feel calm before bedtime.
Miriam Slozberg is a Canadian author, blogger, and mom to 2 kids. One had combined autism and ADHD. After years of trialing different forms of therapy, she learned how to best support her son. She writes on publications such as BabyGaga.com. She also is a mental health advocate as she lives with ADHD and has experienced depression.