Getting kids to brush their teeth, take a bath, brush their hair, and perform other basic hygiene tasks can be a challenge. Let’s face it: Soaping up in the sink is nowhere near as fun as playing with toys! However, while performing hygiene tasks can be difficult for all children, it is especially challenging for children with sensory processing disorder.
Sensory Processing Disorder Defined
Sensory processing disorder is a condition that affects the nervous system and affects the way people interpret different sensations. For example, a child with sensory processing disorder may become overwhelmed when touching a certain texture, or when hearing a certain sound. The nervous system does not properly detect sensory signals, which causes children who have the condition to inappropriately respond to specific signals. It’s kind of like the brain has a traffic jam when it receives certain sensory signals.
Sensory Processing and Hygiene Challenges
For children with sensory processing disorder, particularly those who have trouble processing auditory and tactile response, hygiene can be particularly problematic. Why? – Because when they experience sensations that they find displeasing, they can experience extreme anxiety.
For example, the sensation of a toothbrush rubbing against the teeth, the feeling of soap on the hands, or the tingle of a brush on the scalp may feel repulsive for a child with sensory processing disorder. As a result, these children may avoid those hygiene tasks that send shivers down their spines.
What You Can Do about Sensory Processing and Hygiene Challenges
Fortunately, there are ways that you can help.
1) Pinpoint what your child is afraid of. Then, make changes to his or her hygiene routine using some of the below strategies to accommodate those fears.
2) Utilize pressure during the hygiene task. For example, apply more pressure when brushing your child’s hair. Likewise, engage in deep touching through massages and strong hugs to make your child less sensitive to light touch hygiene activities.
3) Change the temperature. If cold instruments like nail clippers, for instance, bothers your child, warm them up before cutting their toenails.
4) Turn on a device away from your child before using it on her. If the noise of a hair dryer causes anxiety for your child, turn it on away from the child before applying it to her hair.
5) Change the device. If a manual toothbrush is causing a sensory processing challenge, try using an electric toothbrush instead. Some children with sensory processing issues are calmed by vibration.
6) Lastly, be consistent with the established routine. This is also important for teaching and maintaining proper hygiene.
With the help of a pediatric occupational therapist, you and your child can come up with ways to help your child be successful with his or her hygiene tasks.