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How to help a child with developmental delay to dress themselves

Teaching any child how to dress themselves is a long process that requires a lot of patience and understanding. Having a child with developmental delay throws a spanner in the works, and it's going to take a lot more effort to help them learn how to dress

The process of dressing a child with developmental delay requires specialized attention. If you want to teach them how to dress, you need to extend this same level of attention to the process, as well as showing them how to do it step by step through demonstration.

This article contains a few basic tips that will guide you on how to help a child with developmental delay dress themselves.

1. Elastic bottoms

Elastic bottoms are a great way to start the process of helping a child with developmental delay to dress themselves.

Buy them loose pants, skirts, and shorts that have an elastic waist. These are much easier to put on because they do not come with extra accessories and fasteners like zippers and buttons.

Use elastic bottoms, including loose pajama bottoms, until your child is finally able to put them on comfortably.

2. Show them how to take off their clothes first

You should start by teaching them how to remove their clothes. Children find it harder to put on clothes than to remove them. It is therefore easier to show a child with developmental delay how to take off their clothes than to put them on. Showing them how to do something easy first will make it easier to work your way up to putting on clothes. 

3. Let your child sit down while dressing

Dressing while sitting down is particularly useful for your child as they learn to put on bottom essentials like pants, socks, and shoes. Dressing while standing can be rather challenging because they'll need to maintain their balance while putting on the clothes.

As you teach your child to dress, eliminate all distractions so they can concentrate fully on getting dressed. You can have your child sit on a step or on the floor while putting on and taking off their clothes. This way, they won’t have to worry about losing their balance.

4. Encourage them to push their arms through the sleeves

You should also encourage your child to push their arms through the sleeves. To do this, start by placing a shirt over their head and asking them to feel their way through the sleeves. Do it with short-sleeved shirts first then gradually proceed to long-sleeved ones.

As your child pushes their arms through the sleeves, consider holding down the shirt to help them. This will help them build the confidence they need to tackle the rest of the shirt.

5. Have them button their own shirts

Once your child has made tremendous progress and can comfortably put on a shirt by themselves, encourage them to also button it on their own.

This can be a rather challenging step but it’s achievable if you break down the whole process step by step. You may get several mismatched buttons during the first tries but with encouragement, there will be progress.

Start with pajama top buttons which are often soft and easy to fiddle with. Show them how to match the buttons with their corresponding holes and have them try it on their own.

6. Lay out their clothes in order

When helping a child with developmental delay to dress themselves, it is important to have some sense of order in the beginning.

Having too many choices will confuse your child. Instead, pick out the clothes and lay them out in order for them to wear. Consider starting with pajamas by laying them out in the order they should be put on.

Make sure that the clothes face up to help them distinguish the front from the back. Also, the clothes should be turned right side up to make it easier for them to avoid wearing them inside out.

7. Show your child how to distinguish the front from the back

Although it may seem easy, knowing how to differentiate the front side and the back of clothes is not that easy for children with developmental delays. This is why they may occasionally end up putting their clothes on backward.

Start by showing them the tags and labels, telling them that the tags indicate the back of clothes. Also, tell them that when wearing elastic pants, the strings should go on the front. Then point out that buttons are usually found on the front. Arming them with these identification pointers will greatly improve their decision-making. 

8. Teach them how to wear shoes

Teaching your child how to wear shoes is another essential step that you cannot ignore. For a child with developmental delay, it can take quite some time so progress is made one step at a time.

Start with shoes that are easy to put on, like slip-ons. Show them that shoes are worn by putting the toes in first then the heels. Then teach them how to differentiate the left shoe from the right shoe. Finally, encourage them to try putting on the shoes on their own.

9. Make practice fun

You should also try to make the entire process look less like a boring responsibility and more like fun.

You could start by dressing stuffed animals to help them visualize the steps in a fun way. Alternatively, you could incorporate songs into the dressing movements, to help them memorize the steps better.

10. Teach through modeling

Children learn best through mimicry. Therefore, the best way to teach a child with developmental delay is through demonstration.

If your child has older siblings, encourage them to help. You could also model by putting something on and asking them to identify the mistakes you have made while dressing. This will go a long way in helping them learn how to dress on their own. 

Final thoughts

When kids with developmental delays learn to dress themselves, they get a boost in their physical capabilities. It also helps them gain emotional and mental benefits. When your child learns how to dress themselves, their confidence is boosted.

As you teach your child to dress themselves, keep in mind that dressing skills vary with age and developmental conditions. Plus as your child grows, they will make small but steady steps towards dressing themselves whether you intervene or not. You should therefore be patient, understanding, and supportive throughout. Good luck! 

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