Maintaining good oral hygiene is an important part of staying generally healthy, but for children with ASD, it can be challenging to build good oral health habits. If you are the parent or caregiver of a child on the autism spectrum, the following tips and suggestions can help you work together with your child to develop healthy routines.
The first step is to choose the right toothbrush for your child; the brush should have soft bristles, and should be the right size to fit inside your child’s mouth comfortably. To help your child get used to the feel of the toothbrush, it may be helpful to spend some time simply touching your child’s lips and just inside the mouth with the toothbrush until they get used to the sensation.
When your child is ready for brushing, you can help by standing behind them, keeping their head on your chest, and guiding the toothbrush along with them, making sure all teeth are brushed at least five times. In order to help your child feel at ease, you might want to start the toothbrushing process in the area of the home where they feel the most comfortable, rather than necessarily in the bathroom.
Like brushing, flossing should be introduced in small steps to help your child get used to the process, and you can use the same technique of standing behind your child and helping to guide the floss. Always floss one tooth at a time, gently and carefully.
It can be helpful to use a timer during brushing and flossing so that your child can see exactly when the task will be over.
Visual supports and schedules can also be helpful for some children with autism spectrum disorders; one technique, for example, is to take pictures of each step in the brushing or flossing process and post them on a board to provide visual prompts for the child. If you’re interested in learning more, Autism Speaks has a helpful, comprehensive guide for parents and caregivers here.