As we all know, many levels of autism wreak havoc on adherence to what are considered social norms in the neurotypical society. One of the many social norms in question is hygiene. Many parents, families and caregivers face an awkward situation when they have to explain to others that they must help their grown child or family member take a shower and shave and that they must remind them to use deodorant, or tell them brush their teeth or to wash their hands after using the restroom.
One such situation our family faces is when we are out in public and Cody must use a public restroom. If he is with me this creates somewhat of a stressful dilemma. Cody is 26 years old and therefore too old to accompany me to the ladies’ room. And I certainly cannot accompany him to the men’s room. This means before Cody enters, I stand with him outside the door to review behaviors. I make sure he is paying attention to me as I speak and give him detailed instructions such as, “When you go, go in a stall and make sure the door is locked. Don’t drop your pants all the way down unless you must sit on the toilet. If you do have to, make sure the toilet seat is clean. If it has anything on it, go to a different stall. Don’t talk to anyone in there, just do your business, make sure to wash your hands with soap and water, dry them and come back out.” So then I stand outside the door and worry till he comes back out.
When Cody is with my husband, Bill only needs to deal with the stares he gets because he’s accompanying a grown young man to the restroom. Normally, there are restrooms that have multiple stalls so he can do this in a nonchalant way. But sometimes there is only a single bathroom and then people wonder why he is entering with another man. It makes life rather uncomfortable.
I pretty well lost my anxiety about letting company know that I need to excuse myself to assist Cody with his shower a long time ago. When people see Cody for the first time, it really isn’t evident that he has any sort of cognitive disorder. So I took to getting that out in the open right off the bat. This takes the questions out of their mind and alleviates a lot of undue stress and explaining for me.
Many times, ADHD comes along as a sidekick to autism. So this can make grooming and hygiene rituals a real chore. Repetition is the only way to instill good practices with Cody. “Ok, this is how much shampoo we use. Put it on your head and scratch and scrub. Scratch with your fingernails so you get your nails clean too. Now rinse it off. Now take the soap and put it on the wash cloth and rub it till it gets really foamy. Wash your arms first, now your chest and belly, now wash under your arms, wash your legs and feet and last wash your private area and your rear. Wash very well because you don’t want to stink.”
This isn’t what everybody has to do with their grown children. However, it is not looked upon as strange when someone must be assisted with hygiene if they are in a wheelchair. Why is it should it be different for someone with autism?
This is a reality for many families and caregivers of adults with autism and other cognitive disorders. Awkward as it may seem to others, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s part of our everyday life with these unique individuals whom we love very deeply. And what these individuals may seemingly lack in common everyday knowledge, they make up for in love, spirituality and the ability to look and see with the heart.