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Teaching Hygiene to Teenagers With Special Needs

by Michelle McFarland-McDaniels, studioD

Teenagers tend to have vastly different standards than adults when it comes to personal hygiene. That's why teaching teens about personal hygiene is usually not a task most parents look forward to. However, good hygiene is absolutely essential to maintaining optimal health. Personal hygiene can also affect social relationships and even access to jobs and other opportunities. This is especially true for teens with disabilities. As a result, it is particularly important to teach good hygiene practices to teenagers who have special needs.

Talk About the Importance of Good Hygiene

Discuss hygiene with your child using language he can understand. Tell him about the connection between health and hygiene. Emphasize that cleanliness is essential to wellness. Teens with special needs may process information more slowly than their peers. Introduce concepts in bite-sized chunks and avoid overwhelming your child. Give him an opportunity to adjust to new information. Be patient and take the time to answer his questions. Ask his pediatrician, dentist and health teacher for tips and pamphlets.

Prioritize Practices to Teach

Decide which hygiene practices to tackle and in what order. Base your decision on your child's age, habits, degree of maturity, level of independence and special needs. Make a list of the hygiene issues you will address, such as washing hands, washing hair, bathing, shaving, using deodorant and menstrual care. Use a calendar to keep track of when you introduce skills and your child's progress towards mastering them.

Model Good Hygiene

Practice what you teach. Use your own behavior as a tool for teaching your child about good hygiene. Point out the hygiene practices you engage in, such as brushing your teeth or shaving your legs. Explain the process explicitly by telling your child what you are doing and why.

Give Hands-On Practice

Show your child what to do in order to meet her hygiene needs and give her plenty of opportunities to practice. Let her get some hands-on practice using a life-size doll, styling head or other manipulative before she starts using them independently on her own body. For example, she can practice shampooing a styling head, brushing prosthetic teeth or changing sanitary pads on a doll. Praise her for doing things right. Offer encouragement and assistance when she does things incorrectly. Use any specialized supports or adaptive devices that are necessary to accommodate your child's special needs. Once she's ready, help her establish a routine of cleaning and grooming her own body.

Create a Hygiene Kit

Put together a personal hygiene kit for your child. Include products she will need, such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, shaving cream, safety razors and sanitary pads. Tailor the contents of the kit to your child's unique special needs. Label each product and piece of equipment. Monitor your child to ensure she uses them properly. Compliment your child on her good hygiene practices and provide appropriate assistance when necessary.

About the Author

Michelle McFarland-McDaniels has been writing professionally since 1983. She has written for a variety of online publications including BET.com and MSNBC.com, as well as "College Outlook" and "San Diego Family" magazines. McFarland-McDaniels holds master's degrees in African-American literature and education.

Photo Credits

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