Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sensory Issues: When dressing becomes a problem


     Ahhh. Yes. I remember those days. Dressing issues seem to heighten right around pre-school age.
  I think it's because by age 3-4 kids are able to better express themselves.  

      My hypersensitive child suddenly started limiting his shirt selection down to about four shirts.  The other shirts were suddenly highly scrutinized:  They were either "too big, too small, too rough, the shoulders were hitting in the wrong place, too long/short, and tags...well you can imagine.

    Socks: I started noticing the sock issue during bike rides.  About every 2 blocks, Michael did this stop/drop/pull up his socks thing.  "Don't worry mom", he would call out, "I'll catch up". What was happening is that Michael could not "stand" the feel of the sock slipping down his legs. As his Sensory Issues were not yet realized, his sock issues grew worse. Socks started to become the enemy.  It got to the point where there was not a sock in his drawer he would wear without a huge battle. Socks were starting to ruin his day.

     The simple act of dressing was starting to unravel my child...

     Jeans....ugh.  Not as out of control as socks/shirts, but still a problem.  He hated freshly laundered jeans. They were often a little stiff and he hated the feel so he would immediately remove them and rifle through his drawer, opting for a more "worn in", "softer" pair.

     It was the way he tightened his belts that caused me to pause.  He would tighten his belt to the
point that he had a permanent bruise on his belly button for about two years. (Sensory Integration therapy changed all that).  It was the "shifting" that drove him nuts.  Michael could feel the jeans shift  against his abdominal area if the jeans were even a little loose. Hence... the belt. 

     Arlingtion Pediatric Therapy help me to understand how this was all  "Sensory Related".
 I brainstormed and came up with some remedies that worked well.  Paired with Sensory Therapy, today, a year later, his dressing idiosyncrasy's are minimal.

     Shirts: 1)  I buy shirts that are exactly his size. (forget about the "he will grow into it approach).

                 2)  I make sure the material is ultra soft and ALWAYS wash it first with a laundry
                       softener the first time. (your child may often boycott a shirt forever if his first
                       encounter is a negative one).

                 3)  Sometimes sensory challenged kids will react to the "cold/stiff" feel against his body
                      that  a fresh "Laundered shirt can have and reject it for that reason.  Ask him to wear it
                      for 3-4 minutes. Sometimes their own body heat will fix the problem. If the material
                      feels to cold, it will warm and feel better.  If the material is to stiff, after he wears          
                      it for  a couple of minutes, his body/brain will acclimate.  Explain to  them
                      why you are having them try this. You might be surprised what they can understand.
                       This worked very well with Michael by the way.
                 4)  Never by a shirt with tags if you can't avoid it, or cut tag off. 

                 5)  Short sleeves seem to work best, even in the winter. Let your child guide you here in
                       these preferences.


                    1)  Stop buying socks in the children's department if your child is old enough.
                          The sock people all seem to be under the impression that kids
                          like highly cushioned, thick socks. Well  they don't. In the woman's department you
                          have a better selection and are more likely to find socks tailored to your child's
                          sock needs.  Lightweight and fewer seams.  I  have also found that ankle socks work
                          best. They don't fall down and  frustrate the child.

                        1)  Jeans that are soft, and are a really good fit I found work best. TIP: those jeans
                              that have the adjustable waist?  Cut off the buttons and forget the adjustable
                              options.  He/she may not wear them because they will feel the inner button.
                         2) Skinny Jeans seem to work well. (they hug the body and don't shift)
                         3)  Pre-washed ones are better too because of the softness.

                 EMOTIONAL SUPPORT:

                       1)  Make sure he/she has ample time to dress.

                       2)  Stay there with them to encourage and remind him about some of the tips I                           suggested.

                       3)  Make sure you stay calm. Your child will at times gage his reaction according
                             to what he is feeling off of you.  If you are stressed and frustrated, I can assure
                             you it will exascerbate the situation. On the flip-side, if you remain calm, and
                             supportive it will lend the emotional support that your child needs.

    Make a big deal about how well dressing went that day.."Boy Michael, I see that even though that shirt looked uncomfortable you remembered to give it a little time and it worked!!"

     Add one shirt/jean/sock, at a time to his wardrobe.  If you overwhelm him with too many options, it could put you back two steps.

     Last but not least...while I know it is difficult and disheartening to watch you child go through this phase of sensory issues, know that he/she will get through this, you will get through this.  Eventually you will start to figure out how to navigate dressing issues, eventually your child will start to sensory integrate and emotionally regulate and dressing issues will "be a thing of the past".  I promise.  They may still have preferences, but don't we all?  So hang tough, it's going to be OKAY.

     Hope this was helpful.




  1. This was very helpful! Thank you! We are really struggling with dressing as she has limited her options to only one type of pants. It's difficult for me that she will not wear her nice clothes but this helped me realize that my frustration makes it worse. Thanks for helping me calm down and do what is best for her.

  2. Good for you! My son will still only wear one brand of pants. I am just glad that they come in different colors...and even then, new pants can create stress for him! Transitioning into anything new is still a struggle for him. He is still wearing shirts that are 2 years old. I pick my battles. I am just glad that dressing for him is less stressful if I allow him to pick his own clothes... If you think about it, we all have that pair of jeans, soft shirt that just "makes us feel better". I focus on the bigger he learning to self regulate thru emotions/stress? Is his disposition more relaxed? These are the things that are important. One day, we, as moms, will no longer have jurisdiction in what they wear anyway....I am glad that my experience has helped!

    Best regards,

  3. Thank you so much for this. We've been going through similar issues with my daughter that my doctor thought was a phase, but I now know this is what she's dealing with and it definitely helps me empathize with her!


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