As we now head into fall with winter right around the corner, many parents of children with SPD are beginning their seasonal struggle to dress their child for the cold weather. Many children with SPD experience sensory defensiveness, especially tactile defensiveness. This tactile defensiveness manifests as an over-sensitivity to touch information. These individuals often do not like light or unexpected touch, yet may crave deep touch pressure and heavy muscle work (proprioception). Because of their sensitivity to light touch, clothing can be a problem. We all know that friend that only dresses in soft, sloppy clothes because dress clothes are just too constricting. The girlfriend that would not be caught dead in nylons or panty hose because she JUST CAN’T STAND THEM. These friends probably have a bit of touch sensitivity. In children with SPD this preference for certain kinds of clothing can be particularly strong. The child may avoid wearing socks or underwear. They may wear the same shirt or outfit over and over until it is way past too small or is worn thin from washing. Seasonal clothing transitions from short pants to long pants and vice versa may be problematic. In cold months, keeping hats, mittens, coats and scarfs on the child may be a challenge. So what’s a parent to do?
1. Have your child be a part of the clothes finding process. As adults we have total freedom in deciding what we wear and when we wear it. This control allows us to feel more comfortable. Don’t buy clothes for your child without them trying it on first. Have them be an active participant in selecting items in their wardrobe.
2. Natural fibers tend to be easier to tolerate. When selecting clothing, natural fibers, especially 100% cotton, tend to be easier for the defensive child to tolerate. Avoid scratchy synthetics. Go for soft knits and fleeces.
3. Avoid those tags and watch those seams. Try to get shirts that have printed tags rather than sewn in tags. If you need to cut out a tag, be sure to get all of it and don’t leave sharp edges behind. Also check seams for irritating tags and make sure that your child can tolerate the seams in any given garment. Elastic waist pants can often be easier to tolerate than pants with zippers and waistbands. Purchase socks that are seamless, these are much easier to find in stores like Walmart and Target these days or by Googling on the internet.
4. Prepare early for seasonal changes. Weather changes can be unpredictable in fall and spring, but it behooves parents to start the clothing transitions earlier rather than later. With the child select those long sleeved shirts and long pants in early September before the cold weather sets in. If possible, on cooler days have the child wear the new clothes to get used to them, even if it is part of a day.
5. Pre-wash and soften new clothes. Pre-wash and soften up any new clothes. Take advantage of that early preparation and wash the new clothing several times before expecting your child to wear them.
6. Find a coat the child will tolerate. OK, easier said than done, right? Think about coat choices and have your child help select one. Avoid wool coats. Will your child handle a puffy fiber-fill jacket or would he or she do better with a thinner fiber? Is a waist-length jacket better or does your child prefer a longer hip or knee length coat? Is a double-breasted button-up too much fabric? Is a zipper easier to manage? Will your child wear a hood or is that too much irritation on their head or neck? Also think about whether your child will or will not layer up on clothes. A somewhat lighter coat may suffice if the child will wear a warm sweatshirt or sweater on a regular basis under it.
7. What about those hats, scarves and mittens? The need for hats, scarves and mittens may depend on the jacket or coat preference of your child. If he or she has a jacket with a snug collar and a hood, does he/ she really need a hat or scarf? Again, think of the fabric of these items. There are also options in the hat and scarf lines. A cowl style may give warmth and be able to be pulled over the head without being constricting. Ear muffs or head bands may provide sufficient warmth versus a full cap. Will a ball cap be enough cover for most days?
For hand covering, consider mittens over gloves. Can you attach mittens to the sleeves of the jacket. Are the jacket sleeves long enough the child can pull their hands in the sleeves rather than wearing mittens? Again check the tolerability of the fabrics of the mittens. You may love Aunt Susie’s home made mittens but they may drive your child crazy. Consider washing mittens as well to soften them up.
Clothing changes with the seasons can be hard on both parents and child but some preparation and respecting a child’s clothing preferences as much as we respect our own can go along way to making the transitions easier.