Saturday, February 12, 2011
Tackling the Terrible Toothbrush: Tips for autism and brushing teeth
Children in general run from brushing teeth but for individuals with autism it can be even more difficult. This struggle can lead to tooth decay and even more pain and suffering at the dentist. A few tips and strategies to help ease children and adults with developmental disabilities:
Sensitivity to the bristles: Every individual is different so try a range of toothbrushes with soft versus more firm bristles. Even the size of the brush and bristles can cause aversion and at times make the individual gag.
Battery Operated Toothbrushes: For some this has done the trick. There is less 'work' involved since it is doing a lot of the scrubbing for you. This is again an individual preference as far as tolerating the 'tickling' feeling the brush can have. There are also many that shut off after the appropriate amount of time, making it easier to know how long to brush.
Toothpaste: Try and try again until you find the one that is most tolerable to the individual. It is hard to predict ahead of time what will be less overpowering or offensive of a taste. Many of the adult minty flavors are too overpowering for those with autism that I have worked with. There are luckily lots of choices of flavors especially with those that are targeted more towards children.
Interests: Whether it is Thomas the Train, Elmo or Harry Potter it is typically pretty easy to find a toothbrush with that favored character. Sometimes that alone is enough to motivate those that are more reluctant to cleaning their teeth.
Visual Steps: Break it down into simple, meaningful steps. Use pictures to show each section of the mouth and how many times to brush. For instance, Bottom left brush 15 times, Bottom front 15 times, etc. If the individual is having a hard time with the amount of time slowly work up to more brushing for each section.