Bath Time: Struggles and Solutions
Bathing is a sensory experience. Water coursing over skin, the pressure of water all around you when in a bathtub, the tickle and slight spray of soap bubbles as they pop, water drops dripping in mouths and eyes, the slippery sensation of soap, the smell of perfume in bath products, the sensation of a washcloth or loofa in your hands and on your skin, the feel of slightly stale air in your lungs as you hold your breath, the temperature of the water and the surrounding air, the smell and feel of towels, the cold floor below your feet when you step out….
For some, this experience is not as pleasant as it is for others. For a few it is downright aversive. If you find yourself or a loved one despising the bath time routine here are some recommendations you could try.
• If you are in a caregiving role, understand that bath time is difficult. It is important for you to be the emotional leader: remain calm and use a matter-of-fact, ‘no big deal’ attitude as much as possible.
• Establish a routine. Have bath time before an activity the learner really likes. Use visual strategies to remind the individual what comes next.
•Teach the learner to follow a bath routine. While this routine is to be customized to your situation a bath routine may include points such as choose a towel, choose your clothes, bring the towel and clothes to the bathroom, start the water, add scent/salts/bubbles to the water, put down a warm foot mat, test the water temperature, adjust water temperature, get in, set a timer, play/relax listen to music, talk about the sensory experience/guided relaxation, timer alarm sounds, wash, play/relax, get out and dry off (pat dry is often more preferred then rub dry), drain tub, get dressed, hang up towel, rinse tub, move on to preferred after bath activity. The routine can be simplified or expanded based on the learner’s ability to follow a routine with multiple steps and their preferences. Bath crayons can be used to write and cross off steps of the routine.
• Identify the numerous choice making opportunities within the routine, and offer the learner the opportunity to choose. Offering choices allows the learner control over a situation in which they feel they have little to no control. Offer only two alternatives. Examples of choices in bath time may include; using a cup toy or shower head to wet and rinse hair, pink or blue towel, what scent, what toys- bag A or bag B, which song A or B etc.
• Explore alternative washing methods such as soap on the hand, soap on a washcloth, bar soap, liquid soap, body paint soap, shaving cream, shampoo that can be rinsed out with a washcloth, a small bar of soap sewn inside a soft fabric pouch, a bar of soap in a stocking. Present many opportunities to explore each solution before eliminating it as a failed option. Once several tolerated or even preferred methods are identified continue to present new or lesser preferred methods as preferences will change with time. If baiting is significantly aversive consider using sponge baths with no-rinse soap products on a warm washcloth. You can also explore different products such as a loofa and a washcloth or a light versus a thick conditioner. Get sample sizes or try family member’s produces to reduce the expense.
•Give the learner an active role in the washing progress. This may be as simple as holding a soapy wash cloth or covering the eyes to keep soap out all the way to teaching the learner to assist in washing their own hair and body with soap moving toward independence.
• Offer the learner many opportunities to play with and interact with bath time materials in fun, sensory based activities outside of the bathroom and bath routine. For example, bath ‘goops’ can be put in a tub for sensory play or used to clean toys. Helping clean a pet (who likes baths) may also be a fun activity that will help to make bathing seem less scary.
•Enroll the learner in a swim class. Some communities have special needs programs.
Tell us about your successes in overcoming bath time struggles, and contact us to discuss if you want assistance.