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Autism, Personal Care and Grooming

Grooming skills and personal hygiene is something we all take for granted as a simple routine everyday. It is not until we become guardians of a child with autism that we understand how a simple routine can overwhelm one’s senses and the act of grooming is truly a combination of various skills put together to make one large complex skill.

Many individuals with autism have difficulty keeping to good personal hygiene and the thought of teaching and mastering healthy grooming habits can be daunting. As with any learning task, these tasks (that we so often take for granted) can be broken down into smaller, more manageable parts. As a child steps nearer towards adolescence, the importance of being clean, looking neat, and nice is even more important. It is vital for them to understand about smelling clean or looking their best. Find something that will inspire them; like a story we read recently, one young man was inspired to cut his hair (in a trendy way) by their favourite movie star! Perhaps using a music idol, a TV personality, or a movie star may motivate your child to keep up with his or her grooming. Consider using something inspiring to challenge your child to keep on task!

Here are some helpful ideas to start off (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 2014):

  • It is important to develop a routine.
  • Create a checklist and keep it listed.
  • Number the steps.
  • Consider using pictures or photos of your child going through his or her routine.
  • Paste or place their morning, evening, and bedtime routines on a wall or somewhere visible where your child will see them often.
  • Have them check off the steps once they have completed them.
  • If possible, give your child a choice of products, fragrances, and textures in order for them to feel more comfortable.
  • Try keeping all necessary supplies to perform their grooming routine in one basket nearby to prevent unnecessary stress for your child in locating various supplies.
  • Have different baskets for morning and evening routines; again keep all supplies in one basket.
  • Label these baskets.
  • Number supplies in order of use.
  • Make a personal-care booklet with step by step instructions supplemented with photos. Using social stories are helpful to start off as well.
  • When teaching a routine, provide them with simple, easy-to-understand, and concrete instructions such as three swipes of deodorant under the arm, two flosses per tooth, or three strokes of the comb on each side of the head.

A sample of a morning schedule for an adolescent may look something like this:

  1. Use the toilet
  2. Flush the toilet
  3. Wash hands
  4. Brush teeth
  5. Floss teeth
  6. Wash face with soap
  7. Rinse with water
  8. Dry face with towel
  9. Apply moisturizer
  10. Apply deodorant
  11. Get dressed
  12. Comb hair
  13. Tie hair
  14. Breakfast

A sample of a bedtime schedule may look something like this:

  1. Shower
  2. Shave
  3. Dry off
  4. Put on pajamas
  5. Brush teeth
  6. Floss teeth
  7. Rinse with mouthwash
  8. Wash face with soap
  9. Apply moisturizer

Depending on your child’s needs, you may want to use separate checklists for routines such as showering, shaving, or hair care.


We’ve found some really cool resources and pre-prepared social stories with pictures that you can customize and use for your own child’s needs!

Grooming Social Story (I do a good job at taking care of myself everyday!)

Hair Care Social Story (Looking good!)

Getting Dressed Social Story

Taking a Shower Social Story (I can take a shower by myself)

Foot Care & Deodarant Social Story


Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (2014). Teaching your child hygiene and grooming skills. Retrieved from:

Living Well with Autism (2015). Social stories: Hygiene, grooming, and puberty. Retrieved from: