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Improve Self Care Skills For Children With Learning Disabilities

Little boy eating with spoon
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Self care skills can be taught to children with learning disabilities through hands-on practices that combine direct instruction, opportunities, and modeling. Activities like self-feeding and self-dressing, along with toilet training, shoe-tying, etc. can help them live independently and confidently.

Self care skills are extremely important for a person to live independently. The process of developing self care skills begins from a very early age that goes into adulthood. However, some young children with learning disabilities find it difficult to grasp certain self care skills for various reasons.

What Are Self Care Skills?

Cute toddler girl playing with his toys on potty
Child earing icecream in living room
Little Girl brushing teeth with ecologe wooden Toothbrush in the bathroom

Self care skills are described as the skills required to lead a healthy, happy, and hygienic life. These skills not only help us maintain good health and prevent diseases but also prepare us for our daily chores. Self care skills are the activities that we generally take for granted yet perform every day. These self care tasks include: 

  • Eating
  • Bathing
  • Independent dressing
  • Grooming
  • Tooth brushing
  • Toileting 
  • Hygiene maintenance
  • Shoe tying 
  • Doing daily chores
  • Exercising and so on

These self care skills or self care tasks might seem normal and almost easy and usual milestones for children without special needs, but a child with learning disabilities requires a bit of encouragement and additional support to reach these milestones. A bit of extra attention along with a safe and comfortable ambiance ensures that the children with learning disabilities are capable of performing these activities on their own.

How Does Learning Disabilities Effect Self Care Skills?

Dyslexia, ADHD, and dysgraphia are some examples of learning disabilities that make social and many school related tasks for children tough as they can fall short in learning self care skills efficiently. As these kids have a different brain structure, they find it difficult to pick things up like their peers. 

However, this does not mean that young children with learning disabilities are less intelligent than other children of their age. Most are eager to learn but need a different approach. As developmental delays due to their mental, physical and behavioral limitations prevent them from performing some basic self care activities, they require additional strategies and help to learn independent living skills.

To ensure that these children have the right amount of independence and receive acceptance, parents and teachers must focus on the right approaches from the very early stage.

Tips On Teaching Self Care Skills

Every child requires specific directions while learning self care skills. However, for children with learning disabilities, following and grasping these directions can be harder. They require special attention and help to lead an independent life. Here are some strategies that can help your child develop self care skills, even if they have some or other learning disability.

Self-Feeding Skills

For normal developing children, self-feeding is a very common self care skill that a person develops as they grow. However, children with learning disabilities like ADHD find it difficult to grasp everyday self care skills smoothly as other kids of their age.

Remember, no matter how severe the disability is, every child gets hungry and thus, needs to develop their self-feeding skill to lead a healthy life. Thus, from a very early age, consider encouraging your child to explore finger foods. Once they are comfortable with it, teach them the usage of utensils. 

Teach to Use a Spoon– The very first thing you can teach your child is scooping. Let them scoop beads and styrofoam noodles. Encourage them to transfer these items from one container to another. These everyday tasks will not only teach your child how to use a spoon but also will improve their motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Once they have mastered the art of scooping, let them try out real foods from a bowl using this technique. 

Games for Knife and Fork- Once your child has learnt the usage of a spoon, let them handle the fork. Provide them with their favourite foods speared in the tines. This will make the fork handling process easy and will provide them with preliminary motivation. To teach them the usage of knives, build their cutting skills. To begin with, create food structures using playdough and encourage them to cut them into pieces with a knife while holding them with the fork. Once, they execute the task appropriately, substitute the playdough with real food.

Self-Dressing Skills

To make your child independent in self care skills, it’s important to teach them self-dressing techniques. Often parents of kids with learning disabilities take the dressing responsibility of their children to make them look good. This makes the learning process more difficult for a child. 

  • Dressing for Independence – Often children with learning disabilities become rigid with the application of skills they learn. As self-dressing is a sensitive skill, it is best learned at home. If a parent is struggling to teach their child the art of self-dressing, they can take the help of special educators. Start with individual part dressing tasks like pulling a T-shirt or putting on socks. 
  • Chaining Forward – This is a technique where you break the tasks into small steps and then encourage the child to do the first step. Forward chaining is an excellent technique to teach self-dressing to a child with a learning disability. Break the dressing process into orders like underpants, shorts, shirts, socks, shoes and belts. This will help them to dress up in order. To make the dressing process easy, provide them with easy to use pullover shirts and pants with elastic waist.
  • Teach Using Fasteners – Children with learning disabilities often struggle to fasten and unfasten their clothing closures. Buy your child fasteners that can improve their fine motor skills and give them fastening practice. Mount them on boards pr snaps and encourage them to fasten and unfasten the fastener repetitively to grasp the skill.

Toilet Training

Usually, toilet training is one of those self care skills that can be developed by parents at home. However, special educators can help parents to follow the right training approaches. To make your child develop this self care skill, place them on the toilet at certain time intervals.

Though the process of toilet training is not that easy, regular practice can help your child get an idea of toileting. Also, as your child grows, limit the usage of diapers. This will stop your child from being lazy and keep them attentive.

Tooth Brushing

Tooth brushing is one of the skills that are important for your child’s good health and hygiene. To minimize the trips to the dentist’s office and provide your child with good oral health, make them brush twice daily. Routines play an important role in developing self care skills.

To encourage them to follow your brushing technique, accompany them in the process. Provide them with adaptive equipment like the appropriate brush and floss that they can grip well. 

Self-Bathing Skills

Bathing is a skill that can only be developed at home with the help of parents. Usually, small kids use tubs for bathing. However, as they grow up, they must be able to use the bathroom and shower independently. However, the process can be challenging for children with learning disabilities.

Here, parents can make use of the verbal prompting method to guide their child to shower independently. They can provide the child with a visual schedule and gradually fade their own support. 

Shoe Tying Skills 

Shoe tying is truly a challenging skill for children with learning disabilities. For such children, a slip-on is far easier to use. To teach such children the art of shoe tying, you can apply the forward chaining method. Teach them the concepts of over and under, loop making, and tying in order.

To make the process easy and effective, make them practice with two colored shoelaces. This will help your child distinguish the two sides of the process. 

Visual Guides

When a child with special needs is unable to learn a skill, guide them with pictures. Make sure that these pictures demonstrate the steps of a skill. For example, if a child is learning the art of handwashing, the picture should demonstrate to them how to turn on the water, rub hands with soap, rinse hands underwater, dry them with a towel, and so on.

Once they successfully follow the instructions, slowly fade out the prompts. With daily practice, children with learning disabilities will develop independence. Visual guides are also helpful for school related tasks & other everyday tasks undertaken that happen in a sequential process.

Give Courage

As a parent or caregiver, it can be challenging to see your child struggling with self care tasks. In such situations, most parents swoop in to help their child to complete the task. Parents of children with learning disabilities often become anxious when their children attempt to do a task themselves. However, to make your child lead an independent life, it is important to take a step back in such situations.

You can look for different approaches to assist your child to complete the task on their own. For example, if they are struggling to eat with a spoon and not remembering the techniques you taught them, try out games with spoon and fork so that they understand the process and learn from it. It will help your child develop self-confidence and self-esteem. 

Identify Problems

Does your child do it right at the beginning of the dressing process and suddenly gets frustrated as the process continues for a long?  If so, try to identify their self-skill problem areas. A child with learning disabilities doesn’t need to struggle in every step of the skill. They might require assistance with a particular step alone.

Thus, while they are performing the self care tasks, watch them closely. This will help you to find out the areas that require the most attention. 

Make Learning Fun 

While you are trying out different approaches to teach your child self care skills, consider making the learning process fun. Children with ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities often get frustrated and bored they fail to do tasks successfully. Thus, if your child is struggling to grasp the self care skill of self-eating or self-dressing, give them related tasks to perform that they consider as play.

So, when a child can’t have food with a spoon or fork, let them use those utensils as play items. Let them transfer beads with the spoon or cut playdough with a fork. As they repetitively mimic these actions, they unknowingly improve their fine motor skills and gradually get ready to try out real foods on their own. 


Self care skills are important for a child’s overall development, especially if the child has learning disabilities. However, providing these children with proper training can be truly challenging for parents. Remember, here the secret to success is to follow the right approaches and provide the children with positive experiences.

You can also get additional help from professionals with experience in dealing with children with improving the life skills of those living with learning disabilities. When children develop independence through self care skills they learn important life skills & independence for life. .

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