Aspergers and Poor Personal Hygiene

A common behavior characteristic in Aspergers (high functioning autism) kids is the dislike of grooming and personal hygiene habits. "Aspies" of all ages seem to have difficulty establishing sound hygiene routines in the areas of bathing/showering, brushing hair, changing clothes, haircuts, cleaning teeth and washing hair.

Some Aspies tend to feel that showering or bathing isn't necessary. I remember asking my grandson with Aspergers if he was going to shower. He said “no” …he didn't have time for that. He then asked for an orange. I told him he could after he showered. That worked the ONE time. Then I started to find the peels and seeds in the shower. When I asked him about it, he said it was faster to do both at the same time.

The source of the problem stems mostly from the sensory sensitivities associated with Aspergers (particularly with tactile sensitivities) rather than from “laziness.” The nervous system of Aspies is always on high alert, and their brains interpret touch in unexpected ways (e.g., instead of being calmed by a gentle hug, they may become agitated or tense). Sometimes even anticipating being touched can trigger a meltdown in a child with Aspergers.

Here are some of the main reasons children with Aspergers seem to avoid practicing good personal hygiene:
  • Using deodorant is potential area of discomfort for kids with Aspergers. The shock of the cold spray on their warm armpit coupled with the quite high-powered aerosol delivery causes genuine alarm and discomfort. Most deodorants are strongly scented, which also bombards a sensory sensitive Aspie.
  • Some Aspies fear falling over if they shut their eyes, thus you can imagine the potential anxiety experienced by simply washing their face in the shower.
  • Poor vestibular system functioning means Aspies often feel wobbly on their feet and suffer from gravitational insecurity (e.g., dislike of being upside-down, being suspended in mid-air or having their feet off the ground). Thus, the simple act of bending forward or backward over a sink or in the shower can create dizziness, anxiety or mild panic.
  • Getting dressed and feeling comfortable in clothing is another area of distress for kids with Aspergers. Irritations can occur from loose fitting clothing touching the skin, tags or labels scratching, and clothes that are too stiff or too tight.
  • Brushing teeth can be a challenge (e.g., not liking the taste of toothpaste, experiencing burning or stinging from it, having sensitive teeth and gums).
  • Brushing hair or getting a haircut can be a challenge, because Aspies usually have very sensitive scalps.

Below are 20 tips to minimize the Aspergers child’s distress over grooming procedures:

1. Allow your Aspie to try several brands of toothpaste until he finds one he is comfortable with.

2. Be sure to put down a secure bath mat to prevent any slips on the wet floor when he’s done.

3. Being empathetic and talking with your Aspie about his discomfort in the grooming process will help him develop better personal hygiene habits.

4. Cut out tags and buy seamless socks and garments if your Aspergers child is sensitive to seams.

5. Experiment with unscented roll-on deodorants or natural crystal antiperspirant.

6. Get him into the habit of flossing, and if he has bad breath, have him gently scrape the back of his tongue with his toothbrush. Get a fun timer to help him brush longer, like a cool little hourglass filled with blue sand.

7. Goggles protect eyes from shampoo and water.

8. If your youngster finds a shirt that he is comfortable in, buy a couple in bigger sizes and put them away.

9. If your youngster has balance problems, consider a shower chair for use while washing hair.

10. Minimize temperature variations when bathing.

11. Provide a soft bristled electric toothbrush and bland tasting toothpaste.

12. Remind him not to touch his eyes or mouth or to pick his nose. Germs can easily enter the body through the mucous membranes of the eyes and through the nose and mouth.

13. Remind him to wash his hair if it looks oily, and teach him how to clean his face and under his nails.

14. Set up regular bath times. Many moms and dads find that evening baths are a nice way to relax their Aspergers youngster before bed. And bathing the night before can help ease the morning rush. Some Aspies prefer showers, which can also save a lot of time on a busy school night or morning. Showers can also save water.

15. Teach your child to wash his hands, especially after coming home from school or playing outside and before eating. Hand washing is, without a doubt, one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs and illnesses.

16. Teach your child to cover sneezes and coughs. Germs can travel far and wide on a sneeze or a cough. Get him into the habit of covering his mouth and nose with a tissue (or his arm if he can’t reach a tissue fast enough) when he sneezes or coughs.

17. Try to keep your child’s hair and clothing fashionable (even if he doesn’t care, his peers do).

18. Use a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner to reduce time spent in the shower.

19. Use simple clothing. Look for things like elastic waists, pullover shirts, Velcro fastenings and slip-on shoes.

20. Using visual reminders/timetables to encourage the completion of daily grooming tasks can be helpful in establishing good routines.

Whether your Asperger child is 4 or 24, personal hygiene and grooming may continue to cause distress through his sensory sensitivities. Being mindful of these sensitivities, and be prepared to compromise.

Highly Acclaimed Parenting Programs Offered by Online Parent Support, LLC:


•    Anonymous said… My son just turned 14 and still fights having to bathe himself.
•    Anonymous said… My son would not be no trouble at all. He is turning 11 and I have to drag him to bathroom with my husband assist. Get him in the tub. He acts like we have a knife to cut his leg off or something. Then his mad because he has to use soap and wash every where. He says we are trying to make him blind as water gets in his eyes when trying to get water on his head to rinse. Teeth. I wish you could see his face. Such punishment! "Why do people brush their teeth !" " I do not have sugar bugs on my teeth. I find it difficult to get him to wash his hands after going to bathroom.  I'm sorry. I guess I'm not answering your question but it's nice to hear we aren't the only ones. DRAMA that is my house. The dentist keeps telling us he wants to pull a couple of teeth and place braces. Yeah that's I laugh. There aren't enough people there to hold him down. No laughing gas going to work there. It would be tramatic to everyone. He would not tolerate braces at this time.
•    Anonymous said… Totally agree with the above. It may take months, like in my 14 yr old sons case, but once its part of the routine there's no trouble at all.
•    Anonymous said… We had to make sure our son had showering, and brushing his teeth as part of his routine. Brushing his hair isn't much of an issue because he likes it fairly short. A light brushing in the morning before school is all that is needed. He's very good about making sure he brushes his teeth and puts on deodorant every morning because he knows it's in his routine.
•    Anonymous said…  My 18 yr old son showers about every 3rd day, but he doesn't leave his room to get dirty anyway. Luckily, he is obsessed with brushing his teeth smile emoticon and smelling nice! I just convinced him to get a haircut after 6 months & he is loving himself sick Lol My son responds well to scientific facts, so maybe you could tell him why maintaining good hygiene is important (using technical terms) smile emoticon
•    Anonymous said… Always been a problem. When my daughter encounters tangles in her hair it frustrates her into meltdowns.
•    Anonymous said… I was thinking my daughter was the only one that had this problem so I am so relieved to know it's not just me that has this problem with my Aspie's child.
•    Anonymous said… I went through the same stuff. My son is now almost 21 (next month) and he's showering, brushing, flossing and requesting to see the dentist and dermatologist all by himself. He still leans on me for a lot of things, but knows when his BO is getting whiffy and he showers. He started taking pride in his appearance etc about 2yrs ago. Better late than never! Just need to get him the right anxiety is a pain!
•    Anonymous said… My son 15 had same issues, but with many talk, now he started to shower everyday , wash his hair ( he didn't like to wet his head) , and uses deodorant ( this i have to remind him everyday).
•    Anonymous said… My son is 11 and all hygiene is awful but getting better. We found trying to keep the same routine of showering/teeth brushing every day but I still have to constantly bug him about it.
•    Anonymous said… My Son is 14. When I ask him to have a shower, he asks "why do I need too". His tooth brushing is more like 2 seconds, than 2 minutes, so I'm glad I'm not alone xx
•    Anonymous said… My son was highly resistant to using deodorant for an extraordinarily long time. Eventually, through conversation, it turned out he had read the label (of course) where it indicated the product was 'highly flammable.' He understood this to mean he was at risk of combustion when he had the product on his skin. Switching to roll-ons made a difference, but it is still challenging.
•    Anonymous said… My sons the worst!! Seriously worried about it he is 9 at the moment and i have to talk him through every shower after the huge fight to even just get him in there.. i actually have to brush his teeth 4 him as he just cant do it right or refuses to..
•    Anonymous said… This makes me feel better!!! But, he has started brushing his hair in the morning!
•    Anonymous said… son's hair looks like a mop literally. Teeth..let's just say his gums are red and swollen. And nails, I am allowed to cut them once every 2 weeks when they are 1/2 inch long. His talons, aka toenails he rarely let's me .
•    Anonymous said… When I can get my son in the shower, he washes his hair, etc. fine, but getting him in there is a challenge. He doesn't see the need for personal hygiene like clean clothes, brushing his teeth, etc.
•    Anonymous said… When my daughter was younger she wouldn't want to get shower but within the past 2 years, age 15-16, she loves showering and putting on make up and doing her hair even though she doesn't like leaving the house.
•    Anonymous said… All of this def applies to my daughter and has done for many years, especially more so now as a teenager - she won't have a bath and has to have set times/days for a shower; hates brushing her teeth and hair brushing is just as bad as it was when she was little - you'd think I was killing her when brushing it! The hygiene 'monthly' is defiantly proving to be challenging at the moment
•    Anonymous said… been fighting for over a year. i know he has it. his father does and nobody diagnosed him. they just did ect treatments. and finally at 24 year old they diagnosed him. i know my son has it. so im still fighting for what he needs...its hard as im doing it alone with no support or guidance from anybody
•    Anonymous said… Don't give in to what the doctors tell you. It took 8 years to get the diagnosis for ASD for my son at the age of 12. Lots of Aspies don't like the sensation of water on their skin. Keep going.....
•    Anonymous said… I use to be obsessed will hygiene but then depression kicked my ass.
The reason most Aspies don't care though is because it's a waste of time. So is sleep. Sometimes so is eating. It just depends on what were obsessing over at the time.
•    Anonymous said… my son almost 4. he is obsessed with being clean and washed and constant fresh clothes and deordorant. only issue is rinsing hair after shampoo from shower. he has never been able to take a bath...flips out. i know he has aspergers....drs and specialists tell me im nuts.
•    Anonymous said… No mention of girls and their periods. That's our biggest challenge when it comes to hygiene.
•    Anonymous said… Period panties may be a good solution.
•    Anonymous said… Teeth brushing is the worst
•    Anonymous said… what if your child just simply refuses? My son is 16 now and taller than me. His personal hygiene is awful but if I bring it up it can produce a meltdown. I find it exasperating and quite frankly, depressing.
•    Anonymous said… Yep all 3 of my children have an aversion to teeth brushing and being clean in general.

Post your comment below…

Raising Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parents' Grief and Guilt

Some parents grieve for the loss of the youngster they   imagined  they had. Moms and dads have their own particular way of dealing with the...