Young people with special needs face many challenges academically, socially, and vocationally. Another area that is often challenging is grooming and personal hygiene.
For people with ASD, these difficulties can be the result of sensory integration dysfunction, deficits in executive functioning skills, or difficulty with generalizing instruction. Personal appearance is so important to social acceptance for all students and particularly for ASD students, who, with their restricted interests and activities and lack of ability to read social cues, already have a great deal of difficulty achieving social acceptance (Griffin et al, 2006). A great deal of literature is geared towards males with ASD since it is much more common in males than in females.
This article will suggest an approach for professionals to encourage good grooming and personal hygiene in females with ASD.
Research has found that sensory abnormality is very common in people with ASD (Wiggins et al, 2009). This sensitivity can lead to serious reactions to tactile stimuli. Adverse reactions to temperature changes can make showering or bathing difficult. This can lead to avoidance behavior such as running the water in the shower so that it seems that they have showered. Flossing and brushing teeth, hair brushing, and shaving are all activities that can bombard the senses. Perceptual and coordination difficulties can make washing, brushing hair, or applying makeup difficult and sometimes unpleasant. Grooming and personal hygiene can become a source of great anxiety.
Scheduling time to shower, style hair, apply makeup – these activities of daily living require an attention to detail that can be extremely difficult given the documented deficits in executive functioning that individuals with ASD must deal with (Happe, Booth, Charlton and Hughs, 2006). All these skills are in play whether preparing for school or work and are necessary to maintain an acceptable appearance.
Grooming and personal hygiene skills can be taught by parents and teachers and practiced with students. But another aspect of ASD is an inability to generalize instruction and carry it over for use in daily life. In order to encourage generalization of these skills, individuals with ASD need to know why these skills are relevant to them and need to be offered opportunities to practice these skills in a variety of settings. (Myles and Simpson, 2003) To provide a rationale for achieving success with grooming and personal hygiene, students should be taught the importance of these skills in all aspects of their lives – from making a good impression on the job and in the classroom to understanding the negative social repercussions of neglecting their hygiene and appearance.
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