21 Stress Free Tips for Teaching Your Child with Special Needs to Dress Themselves
We’ve all been there – rushing to get out the door while our children are still attempting to button their shirts. The easiest and most natural solution is to do it for them. But a little bit of patience can go a long way. Encouraging your child to dress themselves, and teaching them the techniques to do it, will not only save you time in the future, it will give them an all-important sense of achievement.
Learning to dress themselves is an important milestone for children. It requires patience and persistence (from both parties) but it teaches them some really useful skills, as they learn to name types of clothes, get to grips with buttons, choose weather-appropriate items, and remember which items of clothing go first.
The following tips have been contributed to Scope by parents of children and adults with special needs. We hope you will find them useful, and please do share your own!
1. The right clothes
I divide my son's wardrobe and drawers into different sections: school, going out and scruffy jobs. Now he can decide what to wear himself and he doesn't get nagged by me for putting his best clothes on to wash the car.
2. Smooth the way
If someone has trouble putting their socks on, using a good fabric conditioner makes the socks much stretchier and more flexible, so far easier to put on.
3. Timing is everything
Undressing can be less stressful if you do it earlier when the person is less tired. A bath before dinner and a robe could be better than staying in uniform or day clothes until later.
4. Lots of praises
When John gets dressed we praise him at each stage to encourage him and so he knows he has got it right. It takes patience but it’s amazing what someone can do with a bit of persistence.
5. Front fastening
Try and buy dresses that button up the front as they are so much easier to put on.
6. Home uniform
My son refused to get dressed when it wasn't a school day. I decided as he was OK with his school uniform, I'd get him a 'home uniform' - 7 pairs of jogging bottoms in navy and 7 tops in light blue (blue being the favorite color). This worked a treat!
7. Offer support
I prop Beth against a sofa or something solid so she can balance while I’m dressing or undressing her.
8. Socks first
When putting on trousers, put socks on first. It helps you slide into trouser legs much more easily.
9. Give choices
My 4-year-old son who has autism is often resistant to putting on certain items of clothing so instead of trying to get him to wear something I give him a choice of 3 items. This ensures that he feels he has made a choice and is in control of the situation.
10. Lay it out
Getting ready in the morning has always been very difficult for my son. I decided to prepare all his clothes in advance and to put them on the floor in the shape of a body, and it worked! My son told me: "Well, now at least I finally know what you want."
11. Lining up buttons
Put an unbuttoned shirt down on a table with the front lined up correctly. On the button side, choose the button nearest the lower chest or tummy and draw a thick line with a laundry marker between the button and the edge of the shirt. This won't be seen when the shirt is fastened. On the corresponding buttonhole, fold the shirt back slightly and draw another thick line. Now it’s easy to match up the marks, fasten that button first and the rest seem to fall into place.
12. Don’t forget
We put a big colorful picture chart on Beth’s wardrobe door, reminding her of the things she forgets to do when she’s getting dressed. This saves many journeys up and down the stairs.
13. Right before left
From early, on I've always put Bobby's right arm in his jacket first and now he's in the habit of doing it himself. It’s easier than putting the left in first.
14. Go with what works
My son has sensory issues with different materials, so he wears his pyjama bottoms under his trousers. He feels happier keeping them on, so we just let him.
15. Socks made easier
We buy socks with colored heels to help John get them the right way round.
16. Underwear - which way round?
After a certain age, girl’s underwear doesn’t always have a picture or bow on the front. I use a laundry marker pen to draw a pretty bow or smiley face to show which is the front.
17. Work backwards
A great way to teach people the basics of dressing themselves is to work backwards, eg first teach them to put on their shoes. Once they've got this, reward them and then teach putting on socks and then shoes. It can take a while but worth the end result. This technique can be used for almost any routine learning.
18. Smart alternative
John struggles with fastenings and finding smart trousers with an elasticated waist is a challenge. In the end, we found some black chef’s trousers on eBay, which look smart and can be pulled on and off.
19. Knees up
Children with tense leg muscles can find it hard to separate their legs to put trousers on. Encourage or help them to lie down, keep their legs together and bend their knees up. This can often help to relax them.
20. Make it familiar
Sometimes it helps if children are exposed to clothing for a few weeks before they are required to wear it. Just having it around, seeing, smelling, feeling it may all have to come before wearing it.
21. Hood first
My daughter had problems putting on her coat until I taught her to put the hood on first, then slip her arms in. That way her coat is always the right way round and she doesn't get frustrated.
Emma Sterland helps run the online community at Scope, a national UK-based disability charity, offering support for disabled people and their families. All the tips used in this post were contributed by members of the online community, and can be seen in the tips section of the community .