Thursday, October 26, 2017

A new app that makes toothbrushing easier for youth with autism and intellectual disabilities

This is a sponsored post; all opinions and excitement are my own. 

A good friend and I were standing in my kitchen last weekend, discussing toothbrushing. Her son, who is 10 and on the spectrum, has regular meltdowns about doing the deed. “Getting him to brush his teeth is our biggest challenge,” she said with a sigh. He’s always resisted it, but he recently lost a tooth and is now more freaked out than ever.

Been there, dealt with that. For years, Max could not stand having his teeth brushed—let alone have his cheeks touched—because of sensory issues. We both dreaded it, him because it did not feel good and me because of the inevitable bathroom battle. As the years passed, though, Max grew more tolerant.

We’re at the point where I typically clean his teeth for him and he lets me—but as with all life skills, I want to encourage independence. Trouble is, Max insists that I keep up my gig as his personal toothbrusher. Now I’ve got excellent inspiration for him to BIY (Brush It Yourself): Colgate's oral-care story cards made in partnership with MagnusCards, a free app with digital guides for people with autism and intellectual disabilities.

The app (for iPhone, iPad and Android) offers dozens of photo-driven storyboards to help master everyday routines and personal care—everything from dealing with a runny nose, using an umbrella, depositing a check into an ATM, calling 911, cleaning up at a food court and even finding a book on a library shelf. Users and parents can also set up their own guides by uploading photos and instructions. “Magnus” means “greatness” in Latin; in the app, he is the helpful red-hat-wearing-cartoon-dude who guides viewers through the steps.

Developed with guidance from oral health experts at Colgate, the five new card decks include Brushing Your Teeth, Brushing Your Teeth with Braces, Flossing Your Teeth with a Floss Pick, Using Mouthwash and Visiting the Dental Office. All were put together with the needs of people with cognitive disabilities in mind, as this video notes—and with the understanding of just how amazing our children’s smiles are.

For starters, I downloaded the app, clicked on the toothbrush “Care” icon and downloaded the cards to Max’s iPad.

The Brushing Your Teeth guide addresses the skill we’re working on, so I had Max try those out. The photos and text are both clear-cut and encouraging.

Max grabbed his toothbrush and swiped away in both his mouth and on his iPad, without my even saying a peep. Insta-win! It was just as I hoped: As resistant as Max can be to brushing by himself, he’s usually motivated by iPad anything. I read the text out loud as Max went through the how-tos, so he could focus on making sure he got at his teeth at the right angles. As we keep using the cards, I’m sure the visual prompts alone will be enough to remind him what to do.

Max seemed pretty darn pleased with himself when he finished. I was pretty darn pleased, too, to see him brushing independently. After he was asleep, I texted my friend with a thumbs up for the app so she could try it with her son.

Once again, I feel grateful for technology that enables Max—and makes my life as a parent easier, too.

For more information, visit Colgate Magnuscards.

Thanks to Colgate for sponsoring this post, for which I was compensated. 


  1. Very cool! I like how the pictures are so clear, so you can more easily match them with the words. And I totally understand the "being motivated by things you like" thing.

    Also, since (as you mentioned here) Max had so many sensory issues with teeth-brushing in the you have any suggestions for the more sensory side of teeth-brushing problems?? Since I was very sick several years ago, I've developed a pretty serious sensory aversion to brushing my teeth (and most other oral care), to the point where it's starting to be deleterious. (My childhood-based fear of dental visits isn't helping either, I'm sure, but that's another issue.)

    1. Sorry you're dealing with that. When Max had sensory issues, we used an extra-soft toothbrush—they now have ones made for sensitive teeth. I also wonder if using a finger toothbrush might help? They make ones for young children, not sure about adults. Maybe you've tried/considered all that. When Max was little, to ease his oral sensitivity our home speech therapist used vibrating oral motor tools (Google that phrase). At first he only tolerated them, but then grew to actually like the feel and I think they really helped decrease sensitivity.

  2. I feel like my five year old totally needs this app in his life!



Thanks for sharing!

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