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Coronavirus has brought the importance of hand washing into everyday life (not that you didn’t already have it on your daily to-do list).  Now, more than ever, keeping those digits clean can make the difference between remaining healthy and feeling not so hot.

Hopefully, your “little achiever” has mastered this life skill (often called an “adaptive skill” by therapists), or will quickly … but, as you know, every child is different.  Children with disabilities may experience a different learning curve and everything from age, to mobility, to their ability to handle various stimuli (or even accepting help) can affect how long it will take for them to master each new skill.

Have Fun

No matter what, try to have fun with this and remember to continually celebrate the little successes.  It helps keep a smile on your face and is a great self-esteem builder for your child.

Choose a Path

Before you lay out your plan, go wash your hands and think through each motion you make to accomplish the task.  We’ll wait.

Now that you’re back with clean hands and each step you took in-mind, take a moment to think about how your child learns best:

  • Mimicking – Seeing you demonstrate the skill.
  • Watching a Screen – Video modeling by recording each step and showing them the video.
  • Seeing/Reading – Creating a visual schedule with drawings or photos of each step (See our Facebook page for a simple example).

Visual Schedule Example: How to Wash Hands

No matter which way you choose to teach them, reinforce, reinforce, reinforce!  Your positive energy will make the lessons more enjoyable for everyone.

Break it Down

Breaking processes down into separate steps is called “task analysis.”  The easier the step, the greater the chance that you’ll be successful in teaching it.  You may want to start them with turning on the water (step one) or, since you know your child, you may prefer to start in the middle with, “get hands wet.”  Once again, every child, family and restroom is different.

Here is an example of how you might present the steps, with some considerations listed.  Try keeping your instructions to 5 words or fewer, especially if you’re putting together a visual schedule:

  • Water on
    • How does your faucet turn on?
    • How do you find the right temperature?
    • Some children can also learn, ”water off” along with this skill.
  • Hands wet
    • Would they be better with wetting the back of their hands or their palms?
  • Get soap
    • Right hand on soap pump left under nozzle, then pump (this could be one step or three).
    • Do you use foam (maybe two or three pumps), liquid (one pump, usually) or bar soap?
  • Rub hands (can you get them to do this for 20 seconds?)
    • You can make it more enjoyable with a song or counting to a number to help them focus.
    • How are they with the tactile sensation of soap on their hands?
    • You can eventually teach them to wash fronts and backs of the hands… and thumbs!
  • Rinse
    • Helping them understand when rinsing is done
  • Water off
    • Reversing the operation isn’t always easy, be patient!
  • Dry
    • Do you use paper towels, hand towels?
    • If you have several towels, which one should be used?

Treat each task analysis as a fun puzzle to solve.  Through trial and error, you can hone your approach, discover what things need to be divided into simpler tasks and discover new ways to celebrate each other and the wins you’ll experience though the days or weeks of instruction.

Please remember, that this piece was written as a platform to get you pointed in the right direction.  If they are already washing their hands, this process can be applied to many things, from brushing teeth to putting on socks.

Please post your achievements on our Facebook page!  We wish you happy times, cheerful successes and clean hands.

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