A Parents Guide to Teach Hand Washing: A Guide for Autistic Children


Hand washing is a fundamental life skill, essential for maintaining hygiene and health. For children with autism, learning this skill can be challenging due to difficulties with sensory sensitivities, motor skills, and understanding sequences. However, with the right approach, teaching hand washing can be effective and empowering. This blog post will explore the task analysis method for teaching hand washing to children with autism.

Understanding Task Analysis

This guide is built on the same premise as a Task Analysis. Although it may be applied differently in the clinical setting, the same science that makes it effective applies. Task analysis is a behavioral strategy used to break down complex activities into smaller, manageable steps. This approach is highly effective for children with autism, as it simplifies the learning process and reduces overwhelm (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). By teaching one step at a time, children can gradually master the whole task.

Breaking Down Hand Washing

Let’s break down hand washing into simple steps:

1. Approach the Sink: Encourage the child to walk up to the sink independently.

2. Turn on the Faucet: Teach them how to turn on the tap, adjusting water temperature if necessary.

3. Wet Hands: Guide them to hold hands under the water.

4. Apply Soap: Show how to pump soap onto one hand.

5. Scrub Hands: Demonstrate rubbing hands together, including the back of the hands, between fingers, and under nails – a critical step for removing germs (CDC, 2020).

6. Rinse Hands: Instruct on rinsing off the soap thoroughly.

7. Turn off the Faucet: This could be with a towel if sensory issues are present.

8. Dry Hands: Finally, show how to dry hands with a towel or air dryer.

Sensory Considerations

Many children with autism have sensory sensitivities. The feeling of water, the texture of soap, or the sound of an air dryer can be overwhelming (Case-Smith & Arbesman, 2008). Gradual exposure and sensory integration strategies can be beneficial in these cases.

Reinforcement Strategies

Positive reinforcement is a cornerstone of ABA therapy. Praise, tokens, or a preferred activity after hand washing can motivate and reinforce this skill (Matson, 2009).

Visual Aids

Visual aids like picture cards or charts can be incredibly helpful. They provide a visual sequence of the steps, aiding understanding and memory (Hodgdon, 1999).

Consistency is Key

Consistency across different settings (home, school, public restrooms) is crucial. This helps in generalizing the skill to various environments.

Involving Caregivers

Caregiver involvement is vital. Training parents or caregivers on how to implement these strategies ensures consistency and facilitates learning (Bearss, Johnson, Smith, Lecavalier, Swiezy, Aman, et al., 2015).


Teaching hand washing to children with autism can be successful with a structured, step-by-step approach. Task analysis breaks down the process into manageable steps, making it easier for children to learn and master this essential life skill. By considering sensory sensitivities, using reinforcement strategies, employing visual aids, ensuring consistency, and involving caregivers, the journey to independent hand washing can be a positive and rewarding experience.

Remember, every child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It’s important to tailor these strategies to meet each child’s individual needs.

Propel Autism is dedicated to providing expert behavior analysis services to help children with autism develop essential life skills. For more information or support, please contact us.


Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020). Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives.

Case-Smith, J., & Arbesman, M. (2008). Evidence-based review of interventions for autism used in or of relevance to occupational therapy. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 62(4), 416-429.

Matson, J.L. (2009). Applied Behavior Analysis for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. New York: Springer.

Hodgdon, L.A. (1999). Visual Strategies for Improving Communication. QuirkRoberts Publishing.

Bearss, K., Johnson, C., Smith, T., Lecavalier, L., Swiezy, N., Aman, M., et al. (2015). Effect of parent training vs parent education on behavioral problems in children with autism spectrum disorder: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA, 313(15), 1524-1533.

Reviewed by:

Brandie Buckner
Brandie BucknerBCBA
Brandie Buckner BCBA, LBA holds her Master’s of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis. Brandie originally hails from California, and is currently serving as a BCBA in the greater Atlanta area. Brandie is passionate about making a difference in the lives of families with Autistic children. Being a parent of 2 Autistics, prompted her to serve within the Autistic community. Brandie began as an advocate, and quickly realized the barriers families face everyday. Brandie believes that each child should be given the opportunity to thrive, have access to available resources, gain personal independence, and move towards a life that provides purpose and pride in themselves. Brandie loves creating learning opportunities for children that help them grow, and enjoys working with parents toward socially significant goals, while providing empathy and respecting cultural differences. Brandie also holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Organizational Leadership, and was a two-time business owner before she became a military spouse. In the future, Brandie would like to create/expand resources for Autistics, beyond the early intervention age. Brandie has lived in various locations, she loves to travel, and enjoys the beauty of nature.

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