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When Sensory Issues Get in the Way of Good ADHD Hygiene

Are sensory issues keeping your ADHD child from good personal hygiene? Here, one mother’s perspective on managing her daughter’s SPD.

Many kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also have sensory processing issues, and my daughter, Natalie, is one of them.

One area where this has created challenges is in her personal hygiene. For example, she hates to brush her teeth. We’ve tried dozens of flavors of toothpaste and light-up, musical, and electric toothbrushes. Each new taste or trick is typically helpful to soothe the irksome sensation of tooth brushing for one or two uses, but when the novelty wears off, we’re back to square one. I often let Nat brush with just water or pour a little kids’ fluoride rinse on her brush and call it good.

Brushing her hair has also always been an issue. Detangling sprays and conditioners help, but they don’t solve the problem. We’ve found that keeping Nat’s hair cut short and using the softest brush we can find is the best solution.

And then there’s soap. Nat has never wanted to wash with soap. When she was younger, I felt like she was clean enough after a leisurely soak in the tub or a long stint in the shower, sans soap. But as a preteen, things have changed. Water alone doesn’t wash away underarm odor, and it isn’t enough for her facial complexion woes. What to do?

I talked it over these sensory processing issues with Natalie.

Me: Do you like body wash or bar soap better?
Nat: I don’t like either one.

Me: How about washing with your shampoo? You like the way it smells.
Nat: No!

Me: Is it the scent that you don’t like? Come with me to the store and pick out whatever you want.
Nat: No!

Me: How about if I buy you some supersoft washcloths?
Nat: No!

Me: What is it you don’t like about soap?
Nat: I just don’t like it!

Me: But what don’t you like about it?
Nat: It feels weird!

Okay, so it is a sensory issue. Now what?

I went on a quest to make soap feel different. First, I bought an Olay Professional Pro-X facial cleansing tool, a small handheld device with a soft, rotating brush that can be used in the shower. Natalie likes the sensation of the brush on her face, but she won’t put any type of soap on it. Better than nothing, but it still leaves room for improvement.

On my next foray to the store, I found Johnson’s Buddies Easy-Grip Sudzing Bar in the infant-care area. It’s a small bar of soap sewn inside a soft fabric pouch. You dip it in water, lather it up a little, and wash. Natalie loves it. She’ll wash and wash with it. Underarm odor: Gone! And it has a wonderful, clean citrus scent. (The fact that I found it with the baby stuff was almost a deal-breaker, but I somehow talked my way past that! If your child is all about being a big kid, you may not want to mention that!)

So for now, at least, we have Natalie’s hygiene bases covered. Her hair is brushed, she’s cavity-free, and she smells as sweet as she is. I only hope it lasts.

Does your child resist personal hygiene tasks due to sensory issues? Share your tips and tricks in the comments section below!

[Take This Test: Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder in Children]