So, I can write a lot about this because I went through it myself. You see, my dad (sorry daddy, I love you) has a real thing about brushing teeth. He sits there and stares at you while you brush, and if you don’t do it right he makes you do it again until you do it right. Who knew there was a right and wrong way? My dad does; not gonna lie, there were tears involved. He times you and asks you 3+ times a day if you’ve brushed your teeth. Even without Autism in our house, this would still be a daily thing. He just wants us to be at our healthiest all the time, but man it was a mission.
I had ‘okay’ teeth when I was little, personally I blame my nan for having a cake shop and the heaps of icing, sugar just low enough for me to reach. What was I supposed to do? Not cover myself in sugar and chocolate? Insanity. Anyway, I got my ‘adult teeth’ and they were pretty good, and then came the dentists. Dear Lord the dentists, they still give me nightmares. My dad can never come in with us at the dentist; he starts crying and it’s a whole ordeal. But everyone’s happy after it’s done… except me.
The reason I’m writing this is for you to imagine this PLUS Autism.
I mean it’s pretty rough having your teeth fall out when you have the ability to understand why; imagine not knowing. You wake up in the middle of the night because one of them fell out and you call your mum; imagine if you can’t. Your dad takes five minutes brushing your teeth and you don’t understand why. When he was younger and we had to do it for him it was a battle. There were tears, there were tantrums, there were fights, toothpaste everywhere. He hated it, we’d have to hold his head, have him sit on our laps, chase him around the house with the toothbrush. Unfortunately, he had really bad teeth as a result of his complete refusal to brush more than a few seconds. He had to have extensive repairs and even surgery. Again, tears, tantrums, he would not, under any circumstances let the dentist touch him. He would not sit still for any of it. I mean how could he with that light shining in his face, someone’s fingers in his mouth, the taste of gloves, the sound of the suction, the tools, the pain and us holding him down; again, this PLUS sensory sensitivity. It was unbearable to know he is in such pain, but it was for his own good, we insisted and persisted and now he doesn’t mind it as much. He had his operation and it was dreadful, we all fainted, we all cried, it was the kind of aftermath you would expect from a family like ours.
Once he started speech therapy and we started incorporating pictures and words in it things got better (Making routine flexible.) It was part of his routine now to brush his teeth, and he understood that he had to do it; he didn’t like it though. He had this cheekiness about the whole thing, he would try and wash off all the toothpaste off the toothbrush, he would pretend it was too hurtful, he would pretend to cry while he brushed, or try to kiss you or wipe the toothpaste on you. Like all things, he needed a time limit – my dad sitting there staring was incentive enough for me, but it wasn’t enough for Chris; so we started counting. It was 10 seconds on each side, up down, front teeth and tongue. I giggle when I remember saying to Chris when he got older “Time to brush your teeth” the sheer horror in his eyes, like it was “Come on time to torture you”. It’s so funny to remember the bathroom fights we used to have because he would do it too fast, or my dad would count Mississippily slow to get that extra second in, so Chris would get frustrated. When he learned how to count he would do it himself, no man on earth could count as fast as him while brushing his teeth. All the numbers mashed up into one. As you may have guessed, we had to have him start over again, and again, and again.
But, like in most cases, our persistence paid off. Brushing teeth has now become something he reminds us of. He doesn’t go to bed at night without brushing his teeth, by himself, for a whole minute. He even uses an electric toothbrush now – took some getting used to.
This, of course, takes a load off my dad because he now doesn’t have to sit there and stare or count; he just listens through the door and gives us a look when we do it wrong. It was all for a worthy cause though, we both have a healthy straight set of gnashers and didn’t need braces; all thanks to that wonderful man sitting there, staring at us while we brush.