Autism and teeth brushing!

Every month I attend a support group for parents of children with ASD.  I’ve been going for many years and always come away having learnt something new.  I’m also sometimes able to offer the benefit of my experiences bringing up six children on the spectrum.  There isn’t much I haven’t come across over the last 22 years so very often I have encountered the same situations that parents are dealing with in terms of their own children now.

So many new parents enter the room looking terrified, not only at the prospect of meeting new people and entering the unknown but also because very often they have only just received a diagnosis and have no idea what to do next.  I feel so much for them as it can be daunting being told you have a child with ASD if you know nothing about how to deal effectively with the condition.

Last month a mother attended the group having not attended for some time as she was having numerous issues with her son and was hoping to find some support or advice.  One of the things she was struggling with the most was getting her son to brush his teeth.  Now I’ve got the proverbial T-shirt on this one as it was one of the biggest issues with Osborn when he was younger.  When he was a toddler I would pin him down, prise his mouth open and do it whether he liked it or not.  Teeth brushing was, in my book, non negotiable!

He never relented in fighting me tooth and nail (excuse the pun) every single day.  As he grew bigger it would take four or five of us to hold him down but I never, ever let him win.  One day when he was about 9 he suddenly snatched the toothbrush from me and insisted he would do it himself.  I agreed as long as he did with me supervising.

His hatred of brushing his teeth was based on three extreme sensory problems.  the taste of the toothpaste (and yes, I tried every flavour and brand on the market), the feeling of the toothbrush on his teeth and the noise the toothbrush made.  Very often it is relatively easy to overcome an issue if only one sense is involved but there was no solution to this particular one.  We were like the ‘irresistible force and the immoveable object’.

I told this story to the mother in question last month and last night she walked in beaming!  Her son is 9 but just as I used to she had gone home, sat on him and brushed his teeth regardless of his very extreme objections.  She only had to do it once she informed me, the next morning he grabbed the toothbrush before she could and said “I’ll do it!”.  Problem solved!

She had also implemented several other strategies I had suggested to her with brilliant results and was begging me for the book I’m currently writing.  If only it were available now but hopefully it will be soon.  In the meantime I’ll continue to help as many parents as I can with snippets of information that may help them.  It’s not much but I can try to do my little bit!

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