Their independent functioning in such tasks can be limited by a range of factors, which can make self-care tasks challenging. Some of the factors which cause these activities to be challenging include:
- Sensory overload
Many personal care tasks involve a high level of sensory stimulation which a child or young person with autism may find uncomfortable, and sometimes genuinely painful. The tactile input of the water when showering, the noise of a hairdryer and the smell of soaps and deodorants are some examples of stimuli which can lead to sensory overload and aversive behaviours.
- Understanding the purpose of the task
Some children and young people with autism are reluctant to engage in self-care tasks because they cannot perceive the purpose of the task. They may not understand why they have to wash their hands after using the toilet, why they need to wear deodorant or why they need to have their hair cut. Participation in tasks is affected if there is no clear function to the activity. If the purpose of the activity is clearly explained, motivation to participate often increases.
- Learned dependency
As many self-care activities are essential and important e.g. toileting, dressing, washing and teeth brushing parents and other carers often resort to doing the activity for the child or young person. It can be difficult to find the time to teach independence in these daily activities, especially if they are tasks which the individual dislikes or finds uncomfortable. In a busy home where there is often time pressure to get ready for the school bus or to get to school on time, it is quicker to dress the child, tie their laces and brush their teeth for them. In school when lunch time is limited, it may be quicker to cut up food for a pupil instead of teaching him/her how to use cutlery. Children and young people then have little experience in doing these activities for themselves and have developed an expectation that others will do the self-care tasks for them.
- Lack of frequency
Some self-care tasks only happen occasionally (e.g. hair cutting, nail cutting, going to the dentist) and so it can be difficult for the individual to learn the skills involved or to develop a tolerance for the activity.
For additional reading regarding teenagers: