Sensory Sensitivity and Dressing: Tips for Parents

Many young children have some type of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Children that become overly upset when wearing certain items of clothing, whether this be socks with seams or hats, may be struggling with sensory sensitivity. Let’s look at what Sensory Processing Disorder is, a few signs that your child may be affected by it, and how to avoid anxious meltdowns when helping them get dressed.

ARTICLE: Sensory processing disorder and shoes

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition where individuals can’t adequately process multisensory input. This negatively impacts their ability to respond to their environment, and makes simple things, like wearing clothes, a daily struggle

Signs your child is struggling with sensory sensitivity

  • They can’t stand clothing tags: Clothing tags are usually on the inside of clothes and show the fabric type and important instructions for washing. A common complaint from sensory-sensitive children is that the tags in their children’s clothes are scratching at their neck.
  • Their clothes must be loose or tight: Another common symptom of sensory sensitivity around clothing is the feeling that clothes are irritating the skin. A loose shirt might be rubbing against the back of the arms or a tight collar feels suffocating along the neckline.
  • Socks and underwear are taboo: In extreme cases, a child might be completely unable to tolerate the feeling of underwear. This could be because of a single crease pressing into their skin, or a little fuzz ball on the inside of a sock. Even the smallest sensation can cause a full-scale meltdown.

How to support your sensory sensitive child when dressing

  1. Be understanding of the situation: It’s easy to get frustrated with your children when they don’t want to get dressed. Maintain your sanity by trying to imagine their discomfort. We’ve all worn clothes, at one stage or another, which we felt uncomfortable in. Would you want your child to spend the whole day feeling like that?
  2. Invest in sensory-friendly clothes: You don’t have to spend hours carefully removing clothing tags and performing alterations.  Instead, just invest in a few sensory-friendly children’s outfits. Common clothing items made for sensory sensitive children include seamless socks, tagless shirts, and compression undershirts.
  3. Allow for extra dressing time: You’re running late for work and all your little one wants is to go to school naked. The longer they take to get dressed, the later you’ll arrive at work – and you’re both stressed and frustrated. If you know your child struggles with sensory issues around clothing, give yourselves more time to get dressed and ready in the morning
  4. Offer a few clothing options: Are you the type of parent that picks out an outfit for your child’s day at school? You never know if your choices are going to irritate them, or not. A good way to avoid this is to pull out two or three outfits for them to choose from. So, pick two or three outfits for them to choose from. That way, they can choose the clothing items they feel most comfortable in, and you can learn which items need to be removed from their wardrobe and donated.