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December 11, 2019

I Can Do It Myself: Using Self-Care Skills to Develop Independence

Teaching self-care skills for children with developmental delays or disabilities helps develop confidence and independence

If your child has developmental issues, life skills such as bathing, eating, dressing, and grooming can be a problem. Teaching these children self-care skills is key to them becoming more independent and thriving as they mature.

What are self-care skills?

Self-care refers to everyday tasks that you should be able to do yourself. It includes things like getting dressed, brushing your teeth, washing your face, and feeding yourself. These tasks are also one of the ways children learn how to plan and sequence tasks, organize materials, and improve manual dexterity and coordination.

In most cases, children develop life skills as they grow. However, children with certain disabilities may have difficulty learning or performing these tasks, which can limit their lives in countless ways.

Difficulties can include:

  • Trouble following directions
  • Trouble understanding language
  • Difficulty eating
  • An inability to fall asleep independently or resettle if they wake up
  • Trouble dressing/undressing
  • Trouble reading social cues and interacting with others
  • Trouble with fine motor skills (i.e. tying shoes, manipulating a zipper, using scissors, etc.)
  • Trouble with gross motor skills that use core strength (i.e. sitting down on a toilet or standing to get dressed/undressed)
  • Trouble determining what objects are needed for tasks and how to pack them (i.e. struggle to pack a backpack or lunch box for school)
  • Trouble learning or remembering how to do new tasks
  • Struggle with complex reasoning and thinking skills

Keys to developing self-care skills

There are many ways physical, occupational, and developmental therapy can help children learn everyday tasks.

  1. Develop hand and finger strength: This allows children to use force to manipulate objects, which helps with everything from picking up a fork to brushing their hair.
  2. Improve hand control: Manual dexterity is needed for things like cutting food, buttoning a shirt, picking up a cup, and drawing.
  3. Improve sensory processing: Therapy can help children who have trouble registering, interpreting, or responding to sensory input (sight, smell, sound, touch, taste), both in the environment and their own bodies.
  4. Improve language skills: Therapy can help children develop language and speaking skills. If necessary, they can even be taught other methods of expressing thoughts and emotions, including sign language.
  5. Develop planning and sequencing skills: Completing tasks that require multiple steps. Occupational therapy can teach children how to plan movements and remember sequences in order to complete tasks.
  6. Improve understanding of language: Sometimes called receptive language skills, this describes the ability to comprehend language.
  7. Enhance compliance: Following directions is key to children completing tasks. Some children will display avoidance behaviors when they struggle with tasks or don’t want to complete them.

Does your child have issues with self-care?

  • It’s important to recognize the signs in children who may need help developing self-care skills so intervention can happen as early as possible.
  • Speak to your pediatrician if your son/daughter:
  • Is unable to feed him/herself
  • Struggles to get dressed compared to other kids her/his age
  • Can’t tolerate certain types of clothes/materials
  • Struggles when using utensils compared to other kids her/his age
  • Refuses to eat certain foods
  • Has trouble brushing his/her teeth
  • Needs a lot of help falling asleep
  • Won’t use the toilet unless an adult is there to help
  • Struggles with potty training more than usual
  • Doesn’t seem interested in or refuses to do self-care tasks, but always wants you to do it for them

How can you help your child become more independent?

While occupational therapy can help, it’s important that parents play a role in improving self-care skills.

Here are five things you can do at home:

  1. Create a “visual” schedule that includes all the steps involved in a task as images rather than using only words.
  2. Create a reward chart when tasks are done independently.
  3. Break self-care tasks down into small steps.
  4. Create a routine for completing tasks and stick to it each time you do them.
  5. Give yourself more time so your child does not feel rushed to complete tasks.

Work toward an independent future

If your child is struggling to learn or master self-care tasks, there is hope. Occupational, physical, and developmental therapy can help children become more independent and flourish. Early intervention is key to a successful outcome so don’t delay if there is a problem. Schedule an appointment for an assessment today.

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.

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