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Hand-washing for children with autism

Jacqueline Henderson, autism spectrum disorder consultant with McMaster Children’s Hospital at the Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre

Cleaning your hands with soap and water or using hand sanitizer is one of the best ways to protect yourself against COVID-19.

It is important to teach your child how to properly wash and sanitize their hands and to practice these skills with them before they go to school.

The way we teach hand washing may need to be adapted to be developmentally appropriate for each child.

Using pictures

For example, some children with autism do best when they can see pictures of each hand-washing step in order as they complete the task, like this illustration from Living Well with Autism.

Singing songs

Other examples of teaching hand washing are singing songs like Happy Birthday twice or using a timer to help make sure they are washing their hands for the correct amount of time, which is 20 seconds.

Break down each step

Another way we can teach children with autism a new task that may have many steps is by breaking it down and teaching each step individually until the child can complete the entire task. Here is an example from Public Health Ontario of the individual steps involved in properly using hand sanitizer.

Washing and using hand sanitizer are important life skills that will help keep your child safe and healthy.