Sensory processing difficulties can have an impact on personal hygiene. If an individual has a heightened sense of smell or touch, washing may be an uncomfortable experience.

It may be that the water from a shower is uncomfortable skin, or some people may not like the smell of shower gel, shampoo, etc. It might be worth keeping a sensory diary to see if there are some forms of washing your child will tolerate more than others, such as a bath instead of a shower or vice versa.

Is there a particular cloth that is preferred for washing? Some fabrics are more tolerable than others. Drying with a particular material or colour may be troublesome.

Help with organisation
Adults with autism can also find it difficult to organise things, or remember in what order to do things. If personal hygiene is not something that an adult with autism remembers as a priority, they may need reminders to wash, shower or wash clothes on particular days. Marking these on a calendar may be helpful. A schedule may also help with remembering all the things he needs to do in the morning, ie have a shower, shave, brush his teeth, etc.

Visual timetables explain of all the different steps and are left up in the bathroom or bedrooms as a reminder. Other people will use things such as personal organisers or reminders on their mobile telephone to remind themselves of everything they need to do before they leave the house.

Social skills
It may also be difficult for a person on the autism spectrum to understand why it is important that they wash. If it is something that does not annoy them, why does it annoy everyone else? It might be helpful to do some social skills training on why it is important to keep clean. Caregivers/ friends may need to make it important for people on the spectrum – is there a particular activity they like to do where they will come into contact with other people and needs to be clean for?

Mental health
For some people, not taking care of themselves may be an indication of depression or other mental health difficulties. Please see our section on mental health for more information.