When Sensory Affects Hygiene- part 1

As many parents of sensory children know, sensory symptoms affect just about every aspect of life including hygiene and personal care. In this post I’m going to talk a little about the challenge this has been for us.

When my son was small hygiene needs were taken care of by his parents. We managed the bathing, shampooing, brushing and combing. He certainly did protest. He used to scream having his hair washed but thankfully his sensory reduced enough by age 5 that this stopped.

This is pretty typical for most sensory children. We did not truly know the reasons for his protesting until he was about 3 years old and was diagnosed with a sensory disorder.  People are often apprehensive to get diagnosis for anything but in this case, you really need to know if your child has this. Life will be truly miserable for all involved if you aren’t aware of how it affects everything about your child.

We got many comments when my son was a toddler about why we didn’t cut his hair shorter. People had no idea how traumatizing a hair cut was not only for our son but the person trying to cut it. No one wants to cut the hair of a screaming child. Back then we did not have hair stylists dedicated to working on sensory children. We were left to trimming it at home in short bursts. He even cried if the hair fell on him when it was cut off so he had to be draped in a large towel. He didn’t like it touching him!

Dentist visits were another nightmare! He has such a strong gag reflex that it was not tolerable to have any sort of lengthy examination or dental work. We still have this problem. Although this year he did get through his cleaning really well with a very patient hygenist that took her time with him and gave him breaks when was feeling overwhelmed or gaggy.

While we have struggled through those early growing years with sensory challenges most parents never face…the teen years are showing further challenges.

Keep in mind young children can play all day outside and don’t develop body odor. This drastically changes in puberty.  They become smaller sized adults complete with morning breath and body odor. Bathing twice a week is not going to take care of that.

For sensory children this new increased need to wash, shampoo and brush can be very difficult. They will refuse, protest, or run the water and pretend they did it. Your nose tells you otherwise!

It’s easy to mistake this resistance for being a teen or just being lazy or defiant, however in every case in our house it’s always turned out to be a sensory symptoms that is driving his resistance. And it’s never something you’d think of either.

For example:.

  • What if closing your eyes and tipping your head back to rinse your hair made you feel dizzy or like you would fall over?
  • What if water in your ears or on your face caused panic or feeling like drowning?
  • What if water hitting your head or skin in the shower hurt?
  • What if shampoo or a bar of soap felt like slime in your hands or on your head?
  • What if toothpaste felt like a mouth full of sand?
  • What if toilet paper or napkins felt like sandpaper on your skin?
  • What if a toothbrush felt like it was scratching and scrapping you teeth?

These are just some examples of what sensory children report  and it can induce anxiety and fear or panic. No wonder they fight so hard not to do it! So we often need to view it from their perspective to find solutions that will make washing and hygiene a less negative experience.

If you’re world was on hyper sensitivity all the time and everything felt 100 times more extreme than it does now….most of us could not imagine this but it is what sensory children experience.

It takes some detective work to find creative solutions that will work for your child since each child’s sensory symptoms are a bit different. What works for one child might not work for yours.  I think the important thing is to keep an open mind, look for cues from your child about what is causing the discomfort or driving their resistance.  Find books and blogs about sensory to familiarize yourself with common sensory symptoms. Seek therapies for as warranted if they are helpful.

But most of all, be patient with your child.

Resources:

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One thought on “When Sensory Affects Hygiene- part 1

  1. Pingback: When Sensory affects Hygiene- Part 2 | The Edge of Autism

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