Clothing, Tactile Issues, and Getting Dressed
"It bunches up!"
"I don't want to wear that! It's too loose!" Stressed out by trying to get your child with sensory issues dressed? Some kids with sensory issues are perfectly content being the odd one out wearing the same ratty, too-short sweatpants every day while others yearn to dress like the other kids do but can't bear the tactile sensations of the clothing their peers are wearing.
What's a parent to do?
Here are some quick tips that can help. Remember, every sensory child is unique, so not every tip will work for every child, but these are parent-tested sensory smart interventions.
* Layers. Encourage your child to layer her clothing so that the most comfortable clothing is near her skin. Bicycle shorts, tights, clingy long johns, and super small t-shirts can make wearing baggy clothing over these items less irritating. * Desensitize. Using deep touch, massage, and gently pressing a hand-held vibrator against the skin are some techniques that can help desensitize your child's skin, hands, and scalp to make it easier for him to tolerate a wider variety of clothing. Always coax your child to trying these techniques rather than forcing them on him. Go slow and provide plenty of predictability. Ask your child whether the desensitization feels good. * Shop eBay and secondhand stores for used clothing. First, when you pay next to nothing for an item of clothing, you won't feel so frustrated when your child changes her mind and decides she can't bear to wear it after all. However, the extra washings that used clothing have experienced often make the fabrics more tolerable to sensory kids. Rewash the clothing in your own laundry before introducing it into your child's wardrobe. I recommend using non-perfumed laundry detergent.
* Moisturize skin. When skin is dry, tactile issues can be worse, making it harder for kids to wear clothing they might otherwise be able to tolerate. Be sure your child uses skin moisturizer year round. A lotion without fragrance might work best, and consider desensitizing your child's skin with deep pressure or vibration before applying the moisturizer. * Solicit your child's specific opinions on clothing. Bring your child with you to shop, or be very aware of his preferences and willing to make returns if he refuses to wear the item. Honor how particular he is about little details, fit, and texture. Sensory issues are real, and the little details make a difference: a small band of lace or trim, an applique, or an oddly placed seam can make it intolerable for your child with sensory issues. * Model that you value children and adults who don't "conform to the norm." There are always other kids who don't wear the "cool" shoes and prefer a different type of footwear. Talk to your child about children who are different in some way yet accepted by their peers. Your child's sensory issues may put her in an uncomfortable zone between wanting to conform and wanting to wear what feels good on her body. You can help by making it easier for her to say, "I have to wear what's right for me and that's okay." When you see unusual fashions or clothing, you might say to your child, "I don't think I would feel comfortable in those clothes, but I like them on him. What do you think?" * Buy sensory friendly clothing. Super soft clothing, like seamless socks and the variety of pants, shirts, and so on at retailers such as Kozie Clothes, Smart Knit Kids, Teres Kids, can help. Clothing that is easier to fasten, such as shoes that have Velcro closures and pants with elastic waistbands, can be good choices because often, sensory kids have trouble with the fine motor skills needed to manipulate fasteners. For more on the connection between fine motor skill problems and sensory issues, tactile issues, and helping your child develop sensory smarts and manage her sensory issues, see Raising a Sensory Smart Child