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Self-care with autism

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    Dressing and self-care may be difficult for children with autism to adapt to as the processes involved can overwhelm their senses. Here are some of our top tips for managing self-care with autism.


    • Involve child in the purchasing of new clothes where possible.
    • If socks are bothersome trial seamless socks or wearing socks inside out.
    • Letting your child go bare feet provides proprioceptive feedback to the feet and allows for experiencing new textures.
    • Encourage tactile play to the feet such as sand.
    • Remove or unpick labels in clothes.
    • Provide regular doses of full body deep pressure touch and movement prior to getting dressed. This will improve body awareness and give proprioceptive feedback.
    • If your child prefers to be naked allow for this but in the privacy of your own home. Sometimes a soft robe is a great alternative to clothing as the child can be covered but not required to wear clothing.

    Tooth brushing

    • Use mouth toys prior to tooth brushing or allow your child to chew gum or eat chewy, crunchy snacks to prepare the mouth.
    • Play resistive blowing activities such as a bubble mountain.
    • Apply pressure to upper lip before tooth brushing.
    • Massage gums with soft cloth before brushing.
    • Lay a warm moist cloth over/around mouth to relax tactile receptors before starting.
    • Soak brush in warm water.
    • Use warm water to rinse.
    • Allow time so child can close mouth and rinse in between.
    • Extend, enlarge or weight toothbrush handle.
    • Use small size brush so head of brush is less intrusive.
    • Consult your dentist regarding possible use of battery operated tooth brush.
    • Use of a silicone brush could be trialled.
    • Try different toothpastes, supermarket value own-brands are often mild in taste.

    Hair care

    • Give firm massage to head or encourage child to do this themselves prior to washing, brushing or cutting.
    • Use mirror so child can see what is happening when washing, brushing or cutting hair. Play a funny face game as a distraction to encourage laughing which helps reduce a fight/flight response.
    • Change the flow of the water or replace your shower head for a softer flow.
    • Use a jug to control flow of water or allow child to help control shower head when washing hair.
    • Give firm massage when drying hair with a towel.
    • Use soft bristle brush when brushing hair or a TangleTease brush.
    • If your child is concerned about getting water in their eyes allow them to wear goggles.
    • Use ear plugs for swimming if your child does not like getting water in their ears.
    • Prior to haircuts take your child to the park for 15 minutes. Encourage swinging, climbing, sliding and being upside down if possible.
    • Allow the use of an oral sensory tool or a fidget toy during haircuts.
    • Sing songs or play memory or guessing games during hair care activities.
    • Allow your child to sit in a beanbag with a blanket over them for calming proprioceptive feedback.

    Nail cutting

    • Give firm massage to hands and nail beds prior to nail cutting.
    • Have your child make a tight fist immediately prior to each nail being trimmed. This provides a quick dose of proprioception and deep pressure touch which can be helpful.
    • Have the child play with playdough or theraputty prior to nail cutting.
    • Engage in jumping games before toenail cutting.
    • Encourage participation in heavy/hard work activities immediately prior to the nail cutting.
    • Encourage deep breathing.
    • Sing songs or play thinking/guessing games as a distraction.
    • Try a calm and soothing place for the task such as sitting in a beanbag.

    When you consider all of the different tactile sensations, smells and tastes associated with dressing and grooming, it is understandable why many children with autism find the experience uncomfortable. But with some support, compromises, encouragement and distractions, you can make the experience more pleasant for your child.

    Please get in touch if you are seeking further advice on dressing and grooming.

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