Adults teach young children the basic hygiene rules of washing hands from a very young age. We wash hands when they are dirty, before eating, and after using the toilet. We teach our children a reasonably thorough method that is likely to get general grubbiness and grime off, and on the whole with a few exceptions it is successful. Children and adults usually know how to wash their hands, but sometimes forget to do so.
In a pandemic this is not enough. We are all required to wash our hands in a more thorough way to eliminate any trace of virus in order to prevent infecting ourselves and passing it on to others. Viruses on our hands picked up from touching things transfer to our face and find their way into our body resulting in illness. The problem is we cannot see a virus in the same way as we might notice a smidge of dirt left behind after a quick wash of a dirty hand.
Most of the information we have received tells us to wash our hands for a prolonged period of 20 seconds, singing a song to ourselves or counting to remind us to continue washing longer than we normally would. We tell our children to follow the 20 second rule and facilitate that for them by encouraging them to use their special interest to make it fun.
But the information we, and our autistic friends and family may be missing is how to wash to eliminate virus from all surfaces of our hands. A child or adult with autism may feel patronised when asked to wash their hands in a new way as they have already learned this skill as a young child. For those that are challenged by reading the implied context of the situation, information may be missing. We need to fill that information in so that the instruction makes sense.
We need to be cautious though, as an over emphasis on germs may stimulate an obsessive interest which could make life very difficult in months to come. We want to establish good effective handwashing at all times but extra careful handwashing at times when there is a dangerous infection about like at the moment.
I have found that providing visual concrete evidence to support the information I am sharing is always helpful. In a previous post I mentioned the ‘cocoa-virus technique’ using cocoa powder on the hands to demonstrate to a child/adult how viral particles can shed with a simple touch on household items and all over our faces. This can be used again to help with the technique of handwashing. An adult covers both hands all over with cocoa powder back and front, between fingers, up to the fingertips and around the base of both thumbs. Then they wash their hands like they normally do. Asking the child or adult to ‘spot’ any residues focusses their attention on missed places – the back of the hands, between the fingers etc. This is helpful work to do before reading the following Story, which provides useful information on why we need to learn to wash hands in a new more careful way and also the detailed steps required to do so.
We need to be cautious though, as an over emphasis on germs may stimulate an obsessive interest which could make life very difficult in months to come.
In the following Article I describe how after finishing handwashing it is important to use a paper towel or a clean tissue to turn off the tap. This is because the tap was turned on by a hand that may have had virus on it and virus may have transferred to the tap. If a clean hand is subsequently used to turn the tap off, the hand gets virus back onto it. Keep some clean tissues by the tap for this purpose alone. (to concretely explain this show how a ‘cocoa powdered hand’ will transfer brown dust onto a tap!)
Teach the technique carefully to everyone. Be aware that concentration on the task is required. Not everyone will be able to count or sing at the same time as paying attention to what they are doing. A timer may help here. Done carefully this technique will take over 20 seconds from start to finish.
Lets’ share this Story and make this new skill make sense for our young and old people on the autism spectrum!
To download our social article – learning to wash hands carefully, click the image below. This should allow you to download our pdf.
Main photo courtesy of the Centre for Disease Control, via unsplash.com
Last modified: 27th March 2020
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