Why can bathing be so challenging for autistic kids?
Bath and shower time can be stressful, confusing, upsetting, and challenging for all parties involved. However, it is not just a case of your child being stubborn or defiant. There are some genuine reasons why these tasks are challenging to navigate for our neurodivergent kids.
Why is bathing such a challenge for autistic kids?
Autistic kids are often overstimulated during bath time. Then, add in sensory processing issues and bath time can actually be traumatizing.
For example, let’s consider the sound of the water filling the bathtub. It is loud, and the tiled room’s echo seems to bounce off every surface. To a child with a sensory processing disorder, it can be overwhelming. It is essential to focus on sensory challenges to try and understand possible triggers for your child.
Possible sensory challenges of bath time.
It is not just the sounds, it can be a mixture of things causing a sensory overload. With this intense overwhelm it can sometimes seem impossible to get your child to bathe. Let’s consider some of the possible triggers;
- Bright white lights.
- The smell of shampoo and soaps.
- The rough feeling of the washcloth or sponge on the skin and face.
- The hard and often slippery bathtub.
- The intensity of water from the showerhead.
- The feeling of confinement in the shower.
- Stiff or rough bath towels, or even towels that are too soft and feel uncomfortable.
- The loud and often echo sounds in a bathroom.
- The feeling of being too cold after a bath or shower or even too warm.
What can we do?
There are a few things we can do to assist our child with bathing.
- Be patient and calm – This seems quite simple, although frustration can overflow at the moment. When this happens, your child may react with a sensory meltdown. It is often a lengthy process to calm your child.
- Give your child choices – Let your child choose soaps or shampoos; it could be based on scent or the colour of the bottle. Your child will feel empowered and even be excited to try the new products they choose. Let them choose their towel and their clothes afterward. Give as much choice as you can so your child feels like they are in control.
- Use Social stories – this is a great way to talk about showering or having a bath. The conversation may lead to issues that cause discomfort and sensory overload.
- Listen – Acknowledge your child’s concerns. And if at that moment the time is not right for a shower, then maybe discuss an alternative time.
Sometimes it is not worth the trauma.
And while all things may help, there may be times when your child loves the baths and other times when no amount of negotiating can tempt your child to wash. We also need to ask if the battle and trauma are worth it or can be left for another day? What is important is that your child feels safe and can feel comfortable expressing fear and anxiety with you at any time.