Helping Teens With LD Develop a Healthy, Balanced Lifestyle

Learn why many teens with learning disabilities and AD/HD struggle to achieve a healthy, balanced life.

By Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D.

We all want our children to grow up to have a healthy lifestyle, wherein they maintain personal hygiene and good grooming, eat a nutritious diet, take care of medical and dental needs, and fill their leisure time with enough exercise and personal interests to create balance and quality of life.  Adults with learning disabilities (LD) and/or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) often face challenges as they juggle the many components of healthy living. This article will describe some of the challenges they face and will offer parents of middle and high school children with LD or AD/HD strategies to foster development in this important area.

Personal Hygiene and Good Grooming

The table below illustrates how various characteristics of LD and AD/HD can present challenges to practicing personal hygiene and good grooming.

Learning or Attention Problem

Challenges to Hygiene and Grooming

Visual discrimination

Difficulty coordinating one's clothing (e.g., complementary colors, patterns, and styles)

Fine-motor coordination (ability to use one's hands and fingers effectively)

Problems tying a necktie; shaving without nicking skin; applying makeup; and styling hair

Spatial perception

Difficulty being thorough when shaving; problems turning faucets to the desired temperature when bathing/showering

Tactile defensiveness (over- or under-sensitivity to touch)

Trouble tolerating the irritation of having one's hair cut, the scratchiness of labels on clothing, and the seams inside socks


Tendency to become distracted and forget certain steps in personal hygiene (e.g., applying deodorant)

Tips for Teaching Your Teen about Hygiene and Grooming

Teen magazines feature articles about hygiene and grooming every month. If your child with LD or AD/HD shows an interest, help her select a few magazines with relevant articles, and discuss how she can use the tips they offer.  Additional ideas to help you foster development of good hygiene and grooming are listed below:

Routine Health and Medical Care

The table below illustrates how various characteristics of LD and AD/HD can present challenges to managing one's health and medical needs.

Learning or Attention Problem

Challenges to Managing Health and Medical Care


Difficulty remembering medical and dental appointments; problems remembering medications taken and specifics of medical history

Receptive language (understanding written or spoken language)

Problems understanding doctors' explanations, diagnoses, and courses of treatment; difficulty understanding directions on medication labels

Expressive language

Trouble explaining one's symptoms and/or conveying medical history


Difficulty reading medication labels and nutritional labels on foods


Problems filling out forms at doctors' offices


Difficulty calculating the time intervals for taking medication; trouble measuring liquid medicines

Visual discrimination

Problems discriminating between pills that look alike


Tendency to become distracted and forget to take medication at prescribed intervals

Tips for Teaching Your Teen Healthy Medical Habits

With regard to health care, you can help your child with LD and/or AD/HD to develop an understanding of his medical needs, how to convey his needs to others, and how to safely take medications. The following are some specific tips:

General Knowledge of Medical Self-Care

Medical and Dental Appointments

Managing Medication:

Achieving Life Balance: The Importance of Leisure Activities

Most parents recognize that their teens with LD or AD/HD need extra support to learn how to manage their physical health. However, many fail to realize that their children would also benefit from help in learning how to plan and pursue leisure activities that contribute to good health, foster a sense of wellness, and bring balance to their lives.

Too often, teens with LD and AD/HD know quite well what they like to do but don't know how to translate interest into activity or have no one with whom to engage in leisure pursuits. If they are to have the quality of life we all wish our children to experience, it's important to help them identify their strengths and interests and find satisfying ways to pursue them.

There are a variety of ways having a learning disability or AD/HD might affect an individual's leisure time pursuits, including:

Learning or Attention Problem

Challenges to Social Life and Recreation


Difficulty deciphering game rules


Trouble keeping score in games (e.g., bowling)

Receptive language (understanding written or spoken language)

Problems understanding what is said in interactive settings; difficulty understanding jokes and figurative language

Visual memory

Trouble remembering game plays, dance steps, or how to set up a board game

Visual motor

Problems executing dance steps or playing ball (catching, batting, kicking)

Auditory motor

Difficulty dancing or clapping to rhythm

Auditory discrimination

Problems discriminating sarcasm from joking based on someone's tone of voice

Visual discrimination

Difficulty discriminating between  sarcasm and joking based on a speaker's facial expression

Visual figure-ground discrimination (trouble focusing one's vision on a single item against a "busy" visual background)

Problems tracking the ball or puck in spectator sports; finding a friend in a crowd; finding one's seat again after going for refreshments in a theater or sports stadium

Social perception

Difficulty modulating voice volume/laughter/weeping in theaters, restaurants, and other public places where low voice volume is the norm


Problems sitting still during a performance or game


Difficulty maintaining concentration on the game or activity at hand

Tips for Teaching Your Teen to Pursue Rewarding Leisure Time Activities

Looking Forward to Independent Adulthood

Children with LD and AD/HD grow into adults with LD and/or AD/HD. But with your support as they acquire the daily living skills addressed in this series, they needn't be handicapped by their disability. They can learn a broad range of skills, which promote a healthy, balanced lifestyle and can look forward to excellent quality of life in their adult years.

Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D., an expert on transition issues in special education, is a Professor at Lesley University, where she served as founding director of Threshold, a transition program for young adults with learning disabilities, from 1981 to 1996. She has served on the professional advisory boards of several national LD organizations and maintains a private practice in psychology.