What Not to Wear

Clothes are a frequent source of trouble for children with sensory integration disorder. If your child has an overreactive tactile sense, you may have despaired over getting her to vary from one safe and trusted outfit, even if it's a swimsuit in winter or a sweat suit in summer. Collars and ties, starchy dresses, dress-up shoes — these may be out of the question for your child, and the subject of many screaming tantrums.

Your first instinct may be to see this as a power struggle and insist that your child do as you say. You may have good reasons for wanting him to dress in a way that's appropriate to the weather or to the occasion. But if your child's reaction is prompted by sensory integration problems, it's not a battle worth fighting.

Your child has a right to wear clothes that don't feel painful or distractingly uncomfortable, and his overall behavior may improve if he's not constantly bothered by irritating fabrics and styles. Spend your time and energy finding outfits that will suit the both of you.

Picking your battles is one of the smartest strategies for parenting a child with sensory integration disorder. There is very little reason to force unpleasant sensations on your child. In almost every situation, finding an option your child can tolerate will be easier than finding a way to change your child.

Tags and Collars

You may at one time have felt a particularly sharp tag at the back of your shirt collar and cut it out to feel more comfortable. Understand that your child may feel that same way about any sort of tag at all, even one that may seem inoffensive to you. Cutting the tags out of shirts, or looking for shirts that don't have tags, is an easy fix for a situation that may truly be causing your child misery.

Even collars without troublesome tags can be a trouble spot for your touch-sensitive child. He may not be able to tolerate a tight or restricting collar or may actually prefer something tight and snug to something that rubs against his skin. Collars with scratchy trim or stitching inside may be intolerable. A little judicious shopping should help ensure that your child does not have to deal with anything less than a comfortable collar. If you find a style your child likes, buy a bunch.


Waistbands are another part of your child's clothing that can become a major issue. She may feel uncomfortably squeezed by a tight waistband, or she may enjoy the feeling of a tight hug around the middle. Let your child's preference be your guide when choosing pants, skirts, tights, underwear, or dresses that bind at the waist. If your child protests a particular garment, look to see whether a waistband tag, scratchy trim, or a too-tight or too-loose fit might be causing the problem.

Beyond collars and waistbands, virtually anything about the fit of your child's clothes can be an issue. Don't let it become one. If she likes the feeling of very tight, snug clothes, see if she'll wear a bodysuit and leggings under other, more presentable garb. And if he insists on wearing loose sweat clothes everywhere, buy them in a variety of acceptable colors and styles and let it be. A perfectly dressed child who can't behave is going to be more eyebrow-raising in the long run than a casually dressed kid who's comfortable in his own skin.


Certain fabrics may feel unpleasant to your child, and it doesn't have to make sense to you to be real to him. If your child balks at certain garments, see if you can find something in common among the fabrics. Allowing your child's fabric preference to guide you can prevent a lot of dressing-time battles.


Does your child kick off his shoes at the first possible opportunity? Does he do it even when it's inappropriate, like in class or at story time in a bookstore? Consider that even the best-fitted, most comfortable shoes may rub him the wrong way. Just the feel of anything on his feet may be unbearable (in fact, some children prefer to wear shoes because they don't like the feeling of things like carpet or grass on the soles of their feet).

If you find shoes your child is comfortable wearing, consider letting him wear them with any outfit, whether or not it seems appropriate. For around the house, try slipper socks or anything else your child will tolerate.

Alternatively, your child may be so nonsensitive that she truly can't feel when her shoes are on the wrong feet or her socks are bunched up at the toes. This may appear to be a case of sloppiness or carelessness, but your child may legitimately not be able to tell the difference. It's a good idea to check for yourself before your child leaves the house, or to give her some verbal or physical help in putting shoes on.

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