Supporting personal hygiene for children and young people with disability

Supporting personal hygiene for children and young people with disability



General good hygiene not only helps us to stay healthy but it also helps us to feel good too as it boosts self-esteem and confidence. This is true for all, including children and young people with disability.

How can I help my child with their personal hygiene?

For children and young people, it can help to break down the basics of good personal hygiene. They are:

Children and young people with a disability, will need help and support to practice good personal hygiene habits to the best of their ability. This will become even more important as they grow older and approach puberty.

How can I talk to my child about personal hygiene?

Being able to talk openly and honestly about keeping clean will help you to manage the more difficult personal hygiene issues that are likely to come up as your child grows and becomes a teenager.

Here’s a guide to personal hygiene for hand washing, showering, skin and oral health.

Washing hands

Most germs are spread through hand contact. Regularly washing hands will prevent your child and others from getting sick.  Encourage your child or young person to wash their hands with soap and water or alcoholic hand rub (70%) in all of the following scenarios:

  • when hands look dirty (soap and water only)
  • before eating or preparing food
  • after touching raw meats, including chicken and beef
  • after touching any body fluids like blood, urine, faeces or vomit
  • after touching animals
  • after blowing their nose, sneezing or coughing
  • after going to the toilet

Showering and bathing

When supporting your child or young person with showering or bathing make sure that they or you wash all of their body, including under their arms and their genital area and bottom, and that their body is thoroughly dry before they get dressed.  Genital areas and the bottom should be washed with a clean separate cloth which is not used on other areas of the body.

Skin conditions

Skin conditions and symptoms in children with complex needs are common. Commonly occurring skin problems include itching, rashes, skin ulcers or skin infections.  Skin symptoms are often attributed to an underlying medical condition, or complications related to treatment. 

Some way to reduce skin irritation:

  • Doctors can diagnose and treat the underlying medical condition that is causing skin irritation
  • Take shorter bath times and the use of lukewarm water with mild or low pH soaps
  • Use bath oils or soap substitutes such as aqueous cream, bath washes, hydrating or moisturising lotions, and soap free cleansing bars
  • Use shampoo substitute (e.g. oatmeal shampoos)
  • Keep the skin moist by regular use of emollients such as sorbolene cream and aqueous cream
  • Maintain a cool ambient temperature and avoid rapid temperature changes
  • Keep fingernails short and use mittens to cover your child’s hands if they are scratching at their skin

Oral Health

Oral health is so important for children with complex needs. Children who can’t undertake their own oral care, have poor oral intake and/or poor oral hygiene and have feeding and swallowing difficulties are susceptible to mouth problems. If your child is unwell or their immune system isn’t functioning as it should, they are more at risk of experiencing oral problems. 

  • Regular mouth care can prevent many oral problems. Teeth should be cleaned twice daily with a soft toothbrush or swab. Gentle swabbing of the mouth with warm salt water (0.9% saline solution – or roughly 2 teaspoons of salt dissolved in a 250ml glass of water) will help remove debris and also soothes the mouth. You can keep your child’s lips moist with lip balm or paraffin.
  • Dry mouth is a common problem. This can result from mouth breathing, dehydration, anxiety, drugs and infection. There are products that can be purchased from pharmacies to help with mouth dryness but simple swabbing as above can also help.
  • Inflammation/irritation of the mucous lining of the mouth or mouth ulcers are a side effect of chemotherapy and head and neck radiotherapy. Mucositis can also arise because of poor oral hygiene, neutropenia (low white blood cell levels that reduces the ability to fight infection) and infection. These can be very painful and may require and antiseptic wash or local anaesthetic.
  • Children who are immunosuppressed (poor ability to fight off infection) or debilitated are at risk of fungal infection in the mouth. Fungal infections can look like white plaques in the mouth.  White plaques are not always obvious and fungal infection can also look like redness/irritation. To treat this properly your child may require medication prescribed by a doctor but good oral cleaning and health will also help.
  • Bleeding of the lining of the mouth (this is called mucosa) can be reduced by improving mouth care and treating or preventing infection.  Clotting of blood is hard when the element of the blood that focuses on clotting blood is low (the platelets) and this will aggravate bleeding.  Sometimes children may need a platelet transfusion which may be prescribed by a doctor to be done in hospital.
  • Xavier children and young people also have problems with over production of saliva/difficulty swallowing saliva which can impact on the teeth enamel.  There are some medications a doctor can prescribe to assist with over production of saliva.
  • Children who have reflux or vomit frequently can also have problems with mouth hygiene due to the acid coming up from their stomach and into their mouth. If your child vomits or has a reflux episode,  it’s important to clean the their mouth after.
  • Cleaning the mouth for children that can be fed orally, checking the food is not pooling in the mouth during feeding are keys to oral health.  Children who have difficulty swallowing and chewing can often have residual food in the mouth after eating.

We’re here to help

Our nursing team are here to support families of children and young people with complex disability to manage their personal hygiene for better health. To find out how we can help call us on 1800 XAVIER, visit our nursing page or email