Many children On the autism spectrum have some degree of sensory integration difficulties. As a parent of a child diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome with accompanying sensory integration problems, I know just how difficult some situations can become for both parent and child.
One of the senses in particular that little man has problems with Is that of his tactile sense, hypersensitivity to touch/tactile input. As his aged with appropriate Interventions Little man is slowly learning different types of coping strategies to deal with such difficulties.
As a child and still to some extent, I myself was very tactile defensive growing up. As a child with OCD I also developed compulsions and rituals that involved me having to touch certain textures that I didn’t like, a required number of times in order to stop bad things happening. This itself made my sensory defensiveness very hard for others to spot!
I guess the above means that to certain degree I have that much of a better understanding of little mans difficulties within the area of tactile hypersensitivity. Nonetheless, there was areas of difficulty for little man that I had never experienced and to some extent would have never related both the symptom and associated behaviour together. A good example of this would be little man’s reluctance to bath. It took a while for me to realise that it wasn’t the fact he was lazy with no desire to wash, but it was instead the way his body felt when getting out off the bath (wrinkly tight skin, the feeling of wetness within certain areas of the body etc…).
So, that’s why today I would like to share some of the tips and strategies I have learnt, that help my little man with some of the difficulties he experiences at the hands of tactile hypersensitivity. All these difficulties affect the area of personal hygiene.
Teeth Brushing: Little man hates brushing his teeth and will try and avoid at any cost. This is because the way his mouth feels during & following this action. He also gets rather upset that his taste buds have changed when he drinks anything shortly after brushing his teeth. Just explaining that such experiences are short lived and resolve themselves quickly, doesn’t make any difference to a child like little man. So what do you do?
Tip… Buy only soft tooth brushes. I buy brushes designed for toddlers milk teeth. Its not ideal him using them at 12 years old, nonetheless, I’d rather he brushed with this than nothing at all. As well as the soft brush he also uses toothpaste designed for smaller, younger teeth. This toothpastes doesn’t give off the same sensations. They are lower or except from certain ingredients altogether, therefore avoiding any burning or ultra cooling sensation in the mouth. This also leaves little taste behind and that first drink isn’t as daunting as it was before. I know he will need to use better toothpaste as he goes into his teenage years so have therefore started to look at the different options available in terms of products… Is there actually a toothpaste designed for those with tactile defensiveness? Big gap in the market there if there isn’t! Any suggestions, please do leave them in the comment section.
Bathing: Little man will need me to start requesting he baths in the morning in order to ensure he eventually gives in on the refusal front and is in the tub come late evening. Reasons for the refusal is mainly centred around tactile sensations shortly following a swim in the tub. He understands that the feeling of wetness within certain body areas is quickly fixed with a towel but it still concerns him leading to avoidance. One of the reasons this is, is that he also hates the sensation of tight clean skin, wrinkly fingers etc… That are very present (probably more so) once you have towel dried.
Tips: I must first add, that little man actually loves the shower, sadly we don’t have one and can not afford a shower fitment over our bath. So, why is it different and why might a shower be a better option for your tactile defensive child? Well… the water is aimed downwards in a continuous flowing motion, there is little opportunity for water to really sit on skin in large amounts. When showering the body has not been submerged in water. This therefore removes that sensation of tightness to the skin and wrinkly fingers and toes.
Little man again loves swimming and this itself confused me. Later, I actually discovered he liked the smell of Chlorine and thought that it cleansed his skin of dirt, meaning he could avoid a bath later on at home lol. The fact there is a shower at the swimming baths is another big Incentive to swim. He will protest on an evening his been swimming, that he don’t need the bath his been in the chlorine filled pool plus showered too! For me it was more reason to get him in that bath.
Good products… I never give little man soap to use. This itself makes the skin super tight and squeaky clean, sending him loopy. I myself, don’t use soap for the dislike of tightness plus sensitive skin. We instead use a good sensitive body wash with little fragrance. But saying this Little man also seeks out certain smells and some actually help encourage him to bath. The boy loves lush and colour changing bath bombs can have him running to the bathroom. These are normally quite highly fragranced so I am pleased they are all natural handmade products with many of them correcting some of the tactile sensations he develops.
Recently we discovered a product from Olay that is a body wash with added body lotion helping to lock in moisture therefore removing the dry, tight sensation. It seems weird as body lotion is something we apply following a bath but it does really work.
DIY… When we recently ran out of our Olay product sent from the gods, and I couldn’t find it anywhere in the shops, I decided to get all DIY! I added some Johnson’s Baby Lotion to a bottle of Simple body wash and can you believe it? It really did work! Excluding the odd oily blob of floating mixture in the bath, its actually a really clever and effective solution.
So… Overall use good products to help reduce sensations, apply good body creams and lotions following a bath too.
Use a good quality towel that isn’t hard or stiff. If you have a tumble dryer then use it to keep towels fluffy and warm.
Make bath times fun and sensory inviting with water colour changers, bath paint and our favourite… Crazy Soap.
If you have a shower, give your child the option. Its my experience that a shower is less likely to bring on such extreme feelings of tactile discomfort.
Hand-washing: Little man needs constant prompts to wash his hands. Sometimes seeing is believing so if he can’t see dirt he thinks there must be no germs so no need to wash them. Again he hates the sensation of wet hands or those that feel funny after using certain soaps or hand wash. Other times little man just plain forgets, especially after using the toilet.
Prove It: I used an ultraviolet light to reveal the unseen germs on little mans hands…. After all education is important for any child. I also directed him to online youtube videos and resources that explain the differences about dirt and unseen germs (what you can’t see really can hurt you). However, for you a more gentle approach maybe necessary. Children on the autism spectrum can be easily frightened and become over obsessive about subjects, therefore worrying about contamination and then as a result, engage in too much hand-washing! You know your child best!
Visual clues: Just a sign on the toilet wall that states “Now Please Wash Your Hands” that is visible when your child goes to pull the chain, can be enough to jog their memory and have them running to the bath room sink. We had one of them cute posters in a cartoon format that read pretty much the same reminder.
The Right Handwash & Hand-cream: A good handwash instead of soap. Little man then applies a hand cream to replace moisture back into the skin correcting the sensation of tightness. Buy your child a pocket travel size hand cream to take out and about with them, including school.
Child Friendly Hand Sanitisers: Sometimes when out and about your child may refuse to use a public washroom sink for a string of reasons like the horrid liquid in the soap dispensers or a fear of the electronic hand fans (used to scare Little man rotten). On the market there are now really good alcohol free Hands sanitisers (we have reviewed a few here on the blog). These, followed by the application of travel sized hand cream could be the answer.
Nail clipping & Cleaning: By far one of Little man’s worst feared hygiene task. It’s highly embarrassing for your child to have dirty nails and it’s also highly embarrassing for you, the parent that your child has such dirty nails. Little man just finds the sensation of freshly cut nails totally unbearable. He also freaks out when cleaning instruments are used, saying it makes him feel fuzzy. Now, I can share some tips I’ve been given but sadly we are still struggling. Nonetheless, you may have more success. If you have any tips of your own, that you feel myself and the Little man could benefit from then please leave a comment below.
Tips: Crystal nail files can help! I have a Leighton Denny glass file and its gentle and kinder to nails. Still its a struggle for use as he still refuses, freaks out and dislikes the cleaning process that you need to undertake first.
Allow your child to clip and clean nails themselves. Your child then has better control over how short to cut them and the sensations felt with differing lengths. Again we still struggle (Only ever provide such an option to older children.)
Incentives aka good old bribery. Not really a tip as such and quite bad advise but something I admit resorting to. Funny enough he still often doesn’t give in, even if I’m offering something exciting.
Try nail brushes for cleaning. We have a very nice soft nail brush with extra fine bristles that Little man is leaning to tolerate.
Remember, don’t cut too short. If the feeling of freshly cut nails is really overpowering, you will get nowhere near them with the clippers next time. Plus if you catch the skin you may as well forget ever trying again… Not gonna happen!
Try nail scissors instead of clippers. These don’t cut so bluntly decreasing the sensation that’s felt following the task.
Warning: Don’t ever, ever, even try and cut your child’s nails while they are sleeping! One minute he was snoring, I was clipping away thinking “Gotcha Now” When the next thing I knew the clippers were on the floor and I was following them with a freshly punched nose. Not his fault, he acted on impulse having been woken due to a sensation he finds horrific! Yes, just because they are in the land of nod doesn’t mean the brain doesn’t produce messages of uncomfortable tactile sensations!