Teaching Personal Care Skills to Students with Learning Disabilities

Instructor: Lori Sturdivant

Lori has a specialist's degree in Instructional Leadership/Mild Moderate and currently serves as the Lead Teacher for The University of Southern Mississippi's Autism Project.

This lesson provides engaging strategies for teaching students with learning disabilities about personal care. Use these strategies designed for low- and high-functioning students in your classroom today.

What Are Personal Care Skills?

Personal care skills are the skills we all need to maintain good health, also known as personal hygiene skills. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 'Hygiene refers to conditions and practices that help to maintain health and prevent the spread of diseases.'

Some examples of personal care skills are:

  • Washing your hands
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Flossing your teeth
  • Washing your hair
  • Bathing
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Using pads/tampons
  • Putting on deodorant
  • Exercising
  • Eating a balanced diet

Personal care can be a sensitive subject to bring up to a classroom of students. Your students need to feel safe and free from ridicule discussing these skills with you and their classmates. Treating these skills like you would any other new concept will help your students feel more comfortable with some sensitive subjects.

Teaching Students at a Significantly Low Level

Personal care skills are best taught through a combination of direct instruction, modeling and opportunities for hands-on practice. Consider the following strategies when teaching these skills to students who function on a significantly lower cognitive level than their peers.


Chunking is the process of breaking up large amounts of information into small units. This strategy helps students commit information to their long-term memory. You are simply breaking down large tasks into small manageable tasks. For instance, when teaching students how to wash their hands, break the skill into smaller skills. Make sure they master each smaller skill before moving on to the next. Examples of smaller skills are:

  • How to use the sink
  • How to use the soap dispenser
  • How to use the paper towel dispenser

Visual Guides

Use guides with pictures to demonstrate each step of a skill. For example, to help students learn how to appropriately wash their hands, use pictures showing these steps:

  1. Turn on the water
  2. Pump the soap on hands
  3. Rub hands together
  4. Rinse hands under water
  5. Turn off the water
  6. Get paper towels
  7. Dry hands on paper towels
  8. Put used paper towels in garbage

You will want to slowly fade out the picture prompts to promote student independence. Use pictures from the actual bathroom the students use to develop your picture prompts. If you're teaching students how to brush their teeth, get help from home by using pictures of the students' home bathrooms.

Generalization of Skills

Have students generalize skills across settings to ensure objective mastery. Although students practice with picture prompts and examples they can relate to, help them generalize skills by practicing in different locations and using different products. For example, after students have mastered washing their hands in one location, expose them to other locations and various types of soap and paper towel dispensers.

Modeling and Practice

Model how to perform certain personal care skills. You could also use videos of other students in your students' peer age group modeling the skill. Give students plenty of opportunities to practice the skill.

Teaching Students on a Below Average to Average Level

Consider the following strategies when teaching personal care skills to students who function on a below average to average cognitive level.

Teach the Vocabulary

Teaching the vocabulary is especially important for younger students who may not have any prior knowledge about certain subjects. For example, if you were teaching about proper nutrition you may need to start with the vocabulary 'fruit,' 'grain,' 'dairy,' etc. Have students provide you with examples, non-examples, and if possible a visual of each term to verify understanding before moving on. Teach this just like you would a social studies lesson with important vocabulary terms and a pre-test.

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