Bathing tips for children with special needs

Children born prematurely: If your child is a very young preemie, bathing may tire him because it requires him to expend a lot of energy. Your baby may feel calmer and more contained if you swaddle him in a light cloth in the tub, and just expose one arm or leg at a time for washing. Try to maintain a calm environment with as little distraction as possible. A quiet, warm room with dimmed lights is preferable.

Children with vision impairments: If your infant or young child has visual impairments—and especially if he has both hearing and vision impairment—he may become very disoriented and frightened when you place him in the water. Give your child cues and explanations before you place him in the bath. For example, if you simply splash your child’s hand in the water for a few seconds before placing him in the bath, at the same time signing or saying that it is bath time, it helps prepare him for the bathing routine. If you follow a similar routine each time you bathe him, the child will gradually get used to bathing because he knows what to expect.

Children with sensory issues: If your infant or child with sensory issues seems uncomfortable with bath time and cries or dislikes being in the water, using soap or having his hair washed, the following suggestions may help. Some children feel more secure if you use an inflatable tub insert, which reduces the size of the bath tub and offers the child more stability in the water. Many children dislike having their hair washed and getting water in their face or eyes. To address this, use a bath visor to protect your child’s face from splashes. A hand-held shower head may be a good way to rinse his hair without getting his face wet. Some children prefer a shower. There are a variety of toys that are appropriate for the bath, and these may help distract the child from feeling worried or uncomfortable in the bath.

Children with physical issues: If your child has decreased muscular or postural control, a bath chair may offer him a feeling of stability and safety at bath time. Bath chairs must be used as the manufacturer recommends, including use of the seatbelt if one is provided. Checking the water temperature before placing your child in the bath is especially important when a child has decreased or impaired sensation because his skin may be burned without you knowing it.

If you have questions about selecting a bath chair, ask an occupational therapist to assist you. This specialist can also help you with special bathing tasks such as post-surgery precautions, and cleaning around gastrointestinal tubes, medicine portals, medical devices, casts, or external orthopedic devices.

Positioning equipment: hoists and sling, lifts, special bath/shower chairs