Every child is unique, and they express their individuality in various ways – one of them being their clothing choices. But for those children who experience sensory issues, clothing choices come down to more than just expressing their personal style. Having sensory issues means that the clothes they wear can affect their comfort, emotional well-being, and overall daily functioning.
As parents and caregivers, it’s essential to be aware of the signs that indicate sensory issues with clothes and to learn effective strategies to support children who experience these challenges. If you have a child who has sensory issues with clothes, we’re giving you 17 ways to help them navigate and overcome these challenges.
5 Signs Your Child Has Sensory Issues with Clothes
- Sensitivity to textures – Children with sensory issues may display a strong aversion to certain textures, such as rough fabrics, tags, seams, or even specific types of clothing like jeans or wool. They might also express discomfort or complain about the clothing feeling itchy, scratchy, or irritating.
- Overwhelm from tightness or pressure – Some children may struggle with clothing that is too tight or restrictive. They might resist wearing clothes with elastic waistbands, or socks or shoes that feel constricting, resulting in anxiety, frustration, or meltdowns.
- Sensory seekers – There are some children that seek sensory input by constantly fidgeting, pulling, or adjusting their clothing. They may enjoy tight clothes or find comfort in repetitive actions like rubbing fabric against their skin.
- Intolerance to certain fabrics – Certain materials can trigger sensory discomfort in children with hypersensitivity. Fabrics like lace, nylon, or polyester might cause irritation, leading to physical discomfort and emotional distress.
- Challenges with transitions – Getting dressed or changing clothes can be overwhelming for children with sensory issues. They may struggle with the process of taking off or putting on clothes, leading to resistance or meltdowns during dressing routines.
How to Help a Child with Sensory Issues with Clothes
Follow these 17 strategies to help a child who has sensory issues with clothes:
- Observe and listen – Pay close attention to your child’s reactions and verbal cues related to clothing. Observe their body language, facial expressions, and communication when they wear different types of clothes. This will help you identify specific triggers and patterns related to sensory issues.
- Choose comfortable clothing – Prioritize soft, breathable, and non-irritating fabrics like cotton or bamboo. Opt for seamless or tagless clothes to minimize potential sensory discomfort. Also, consider clothing with loose-fitting or adjustable features to help accommodate individual preferences.
- Gradual exposure – Introduce new fabrics, textures, and clothing items gradually. Start with clothing your child is most comfortable with and slowly incorporate new materials over time. This approach allows a child to adapt and adjust at their own pace.
- Sensory-friendly shopping – Involve your child in the clothing selection process whenever possible. Allow them to touch, feel, and try on clothes before making a purchase. Visit stores that offer a wide range of sensory-friendly options, such as adaptive clothing lines or brands specifically designed for individuals with sensory sensitivities.
- Modify clothing – Make simple modifications to clothing items to reduce sensory discomfort. For tags, remove them completely or use fabric-friendly tapes to cover them. To deal with seams, alter the clothes by removing or flattening rough seams. These modifications can significantly improve the wearing experience for children with sensory issues.
- Provide choices – Allow your child to have a say in their clothing choices whenever feasible. Offer them options within acceptable limits to encourage independence and promote a sense of ownership over their clothing decisions.
- Create a calm environment – Establish a calm and distraction-free environment when getting dressed. Minimize loud noises, bright lights, or other sensory stimuli that may exacerbate your child’s sensitivity or overwhelm them during dressing routines.
- Sensory breaks – Try incorporating sensory breaks into your child’s daily routine. These breaks can include activities like deep pressure massages, brushing, or providing access to sensory tools such as fidget toys, weighted blankets, or textured cushions. These activities help regulate sensory input and promote self-regulation.
- Occupational therapy – Consider consulting with a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in sensory integration. They can help provide valuable insights, personalized strategies, and exercises to help your child overcome their sensory challenges with clothing.
- Educate others – Sensory issues with clothes may not be widely understood, so it’s important to educate teachers, family members, and friends about your child’s challenges. By raising awareness, you can help create a supportive network that understands and accommodates your child’s needs.
- Preemptive sensory activities – Engage your child in sensory activities before getting dressed. This can include activities like jumping on a small trampoline, swinging, or playing with textured toys. These activities help regulate their sensory system and prepare them for the clothing experience.
- Layer their clothes – Layering clothes can provide a sense of security and reduce sensitivity to certain fabrics or textures. For example, your child can wear a soft undershirt or a seamless compression garment beneath their regular clothing to create a barrier between their skin and potentially uncomfortable fabrics.
- Desensitization exercises – Gradually introduce your child to textures or clothing items they struggle with through desensitization exercises. Start with exposure to the challenging texture for short periods, gradually increasing the duration over time. This approach can help desensitize their sensory system and reduce aversions.
- Use distractions – Engage your child in activities or play music they enjoy while getting dressed. Distractions can divert their attention from sensory discomfort and make the dressing routine more enjoyable for them.
- Social stories – Create social stories or visual narratives that explain the importance of wearing certain clothes for specific occasions or settings. Social stories can help your child understand the expectations and reasons behind dressing appropriately, reducing resistance and anxiety.
- Engage in pretend play – Incorporate pretend play activities that involve dressing up in different costumes or outfits. This allows your child to explore different textures and clothing items in a fun and non-threatening way, promoting familiarity and comfort with various clothing options.
- Encourage self-advocacy – Teach your child strategies to express their needs and preferences regarding clothing. Encourage them to communicate when something feels uncomfortable or ask for modifications to make clothing more tolerable. Building self-advocacy skills empowers your child to take an active role in managing their sensory challenges.
Remember, every child is unique, and it’s essential to tailor these strategies to your child’s specific needs and preferences. Regular communication with your child, their teachers, therapists, and other caregivers will help identify the most effective approaches to support their sensory issues with clothes.
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