Oral health in children is a very important aspect that must never be neglected. Children are not equipped to perform this complex task, and parents therefore step in to perform it till the child reaches an age when he can do it himself. While it can be difficult for any child to get used to the process of brushing and oral hygiene, it is particularly distressing and challenging for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Autism Spectrum encompasses a wide variety of neurodevelopmental conditions, characterized by difficulty in communication, socializing and interaction across multiple contexts. It is also accompanied by repetitive behavioral patterns, impaired functions in certain cases with heightened skills in others.
Given the nature of this condition and the fact that autism is often detected within the first year of birth, it becomes essential to handle these kids, and their special needs using a softer, more considerate approach. Autistic children are hypersensitive, do not allow anyone to touch their mouths, are oftentimes unresponsive and also non co-operative. Brushing and other oral tasks when introduced gently will enable them do their tasks themselves.
Below are a few tips that will make it easier to introduce brushing to autistic children-
- To begin with, choose the right kind of toothbrush. Since there are many sizes, colors and styles, it is important to choose a brush that is just the right size for the mouth, and also one in a color that the child will love.
- Since the children experience heightened sensitivity which makes them uncomfortable, it helps to touch the brush to the child’s lips or inside of the mouth for a few days to desensitize them.
- Giving the same instructions repeatedly, such as ‘open mouth wide’, ‘show your teeth’, ensures they get used to the them as a daily practice.
- It also helps when parents set an example. Brushing, gargling and flossing can become a shared activity which the child will come to learn and love.
- Brushing the teeth of an autistic child works when there are a repetitive set of procedures to follow. This will familiarize them as well as help them open up to the ritual over time.
Below are a set of steps that can be followed for brushing the child’s teeth;
- Stand behind the child with their head resting on the front of your chest
- Put a small pea sized amount of paste on the brush
- Use the brush as you would on your own teeth
- Follow this 6 step procedure for brushing
- Brush the bottom back teeth inside, out and top 5 times
- Brush the top teeth inside and out 5 times
- Brush bottom front teeth inside, out and top 5 times
- Move to the opposite teeth and brush bottom teeth inside and out 5 times
- Brush the top front teeth inside and out 5 times
- Brush the top back teeth inside and out 5 times
- Although brushing is normally done in the bathroom, it is advisable to brush the teeth of autistic children wherever they seem comfortable. It could be either on a couch or on their bed and gradually progressed into the bathroom.
Just as with every other activity, getting the child to look after their teeth independently is the ultimate goal of a parent. When it comes to autistic kids, it needs a little more effort and attention.
Do read our next blog to understand how to ensure how teeth brushing can be made a regular task in such children.