Just when your child has mastered adjusting to a new school experience, she is then faced with having to get used to the change in season. The difference in going from wearing summer clothes to fall clothes may not seem like a problem to you – but for a child with sensory issues, this can be a HUGE hurdle.
There are different kinds of sensory issues, also known as sensory processing disorder (SPD) or sensory dysfunction. Whether SPD is considered its own diagnosis, or a symptom of a larger diagnosis is still being debated by experts. However, if your child suffers from sensory issues, understanding their world and figuring out how to help them is key.
In this post, I am going to focus on the sense of touch.
For a child who hates the feel of certain kinds of fabric or tags on their clothes, changing from a summer to a fall/winter wardrobe can be traumatic. A short sleeve t-shirt does not feel the same as a long sleeve t-shirt. A collarless shirt is much more comfortable than a collared shirt that touches the neck. A blouse with ridges where the buttons meet the fabric may cause distress. The switch from shorts, where legs are not dealing with the light touch of a pant leg, to that of long pants, can be a huge feat to master.
Fabrics can have a huge effect on a child with sensitivity to touch. The “feel” of every material is different. For example, a soft flannel without buttons or zippers is usually much more acceptable than a wool blend or polyester.
And, then there are shoes…putting on closed toe shoes after a summer of toes free to wiggle inside open sandals can be like trying to cage a lion.
Some tips that may help
- If your child can’t adapt to the sudden change from a short sleeve shirt to a long sleeve shirt, try dressing him in a short sleeve shirt, but give him a soft sweater or sweatshirt to put on it if he gets cold.
- For girls, instead of going straight from shorts to long pants, try a middle approach first – Capri pants (below the knee), skirts, or even skirt/short combinations known as “skorts” that end just below the knee may be a good middle ground before you graduate to long pants.
- It is tougher for boys who usually have to go straight from shorts to pants. In this case, if soft cotton sweat pants are allowed in school, this may be your safest transition pant. (“Sweats” would work well for girls, too.) Once he gets used to having his legs completely covered, he may be more able to tolerate pants that are stiff or hold their shape, such as jeans or khakis. Keep in mind that some clothing companies make flannel lined jeans and khaki pants – they are soft inside, so the stiff fabric and the seams will not irritate your child’s skin.
- Parents should keep in mind which fabrics work or don’t work for their child. My daughter used to tell me which fabric gave her “pinches and itches.” It does not help to push a fabric on your child if her skin can’t tolerate it. Let her pick the fabrics that feel good to her – you’ll both be happier.
- As far as shoes are concerned, for girls, “ballet flats” which are more open than sneakers or lace-up shoes can be a good transition shoe. They are not as rigid as typical shoes which will be more comfortable. For boys, short spurts of wearing shoes or sneakers may help your child slowly get used to the weight and feeling of a closed toe.
- If your child sees an occupational therapist, be sure to ask her for suggestions.
- To help your child understand her sensory issues, there are many children’s books from which to choose, such as “This is Gabriel – Making Sense of School” by Hartley Steiner.
- Read other posts about sensory difficulties, tips on bathing, dressing, eating or sound sensitivity, where to find help, and how to enjoy Halloween if your child has sensory challenges or food allergies.
Your child can’t help the way she feels. The more you understand her issues, the more you can help her.