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Learning Disabilities and Social Problems

Children with learning disabilities (especially nonverbal LD) or attention issues often have social problems. I wrote about some of them in an earlier post. But, there is one problem that I didn’t mention in that blog that really needs to be discussed.


It’s a topic that no one likes to think about—or talk about—but it is very important and can possibly affect a person throughout his critical adolescent years. That problem is personal hygiene.


At my school we give reading and dictation support to students who need that help on homework and tests. As a teacher, it is common to work with a student who forgot to brush her teeth that morning. It is uncomfortable for the adult taking dictation, but it creates even bigger problems with her peers. I see this problem frequently.


Less often, I find myself working with a student with a strong body odor. His hair is oily, his clothes are disheveled, and he smells bad. This creates a huge social problem for him! As a teacher of learning disabled students, I have become more comfortable talking to my students about this. I think about how important friends are and how difficult it is to make friends when you are dirty.


If your child has these issues, here are the “talking points” I use. They generally work and thinking them through ahead of time can make the talk easier for you. I have never had this talk with a student who became upset with me, and every time I have talked about these issues with a student, her hygiene has improved.


Here’s what to say:


  • As you change from a child into an adult, you need to take more showers and use deodorant. This is because your body begins to produce hormones that create a strong odor. This is not your fault. It happens to everybody.


  • I have noticed that you often do not smell clean when you come to school.


  • Just using deodorant is not enough. You have to clean every square inch of your body using soap and warm water. When your body is going through the change from child to adult, you really need two showers a day.


  • You have to brush your teeth twice a day. When you go to bed at night, bacteria go to work on any food particles they can find in your mouth. These bacteria create a smell in your mouth. The only way to get rid of it is to brush your teeth.


  • Never come to school without taking a shower, using deodorant, and brushing your teeth.


  • Your friends will appreciate that you are clean and smell fresh when you get to school.


Once your child has heard the talk, ask her every morning whether she took a shower, used deodorant, and brushed her teeth. Eventually, she’ll get into the habit and won’t need the reminder. Remember that learning-disabled children often need explicit instruction on things that other children do without the additional support.


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#3 Livia McCoy 2012-01-26 21:02
Thanks, guys! So many of our teachers do not want to talk to students about this. The nurse and I find ourselves having "the talk" more than anyone else. Once you do it, you find out it is well worth the time. I used to teach middle school health. Towards the end of the course (after I had developed a good relationship with the students), I would ask, "What's the most important thing I taught you this quarter?" They would laugh and answer, "We stink!" ;-)
#2 Emily G 2012-01-26 20:24
I've known some college educators who have had to talk to students about this, too. Best to learn these habits as a youngster than when you're about to enter the job market.
#1 educator 2012-01-26 20:17
Livia, I like the kind way you explain the importance of hygiene.

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