How to teach personal hygiene to adults with developmental disabilities

Written by kristie sweet
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How to teach personal hygiene to adults with developmental disabilities
Proper dental hygiene is just one of the important parts of a healthy daily routine developmentally disabled adults must learn. (oral hygiene image by Pix by Marti from

For adults with developmental disabilities, a higher level of autonomy depends upon the ability to complete necessary daily tasks with a minimum of supervision. An appropriate level of personal hygiene is vital for social interaction including becoming part of the workforce, and it is also important for good health. Most developmentally disabled adults can learn the basics of proper hygiene with clear, succinct instruction. Teaching basic hygiene takes good planning, modelling and using cues.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Paper
  • Coloured markers
  • Tape
  • Hygiene implements (toothbrush, soap, shampoo)

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  1. 1

    Break the task down into small steps.

  2. 2

    Write each step concisely on a piece of paper with a marker, using different colours for each step. This is a "cheat sheet" for the learner to follow after you've gone, so it needs to be easy to read and understand.

  3. 3

    Model the activity, step by step. Ideally, you should model the activity directly in front of the learner in order to address questions, but videotape models may also be effective.

  4. 4

    Observe as the learner duplicates the actions, correcting when needed. Supply praise whenever possible.

  5. 5

    Make any necessary corrections/additions/deletions to the instructions. Post them where the learner can easily see them while performing the activity.

  6. 6

    Establish a reward system for continued use of proper procedures.

  7. 7

    Follow up several times over the following months to be sure the learner is still performing each step correctly.

Tips and warnings

  • Practice the activities yourself before teaching.
  • Laminating the instruction sheets will help keep them clean and readable.

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