“Help! My child won’t wear socks” and other struggles related to dressing with sensory processing disorder.
It happened every single day.
When my son was in the second grade, his last year in public school, he would burst into tears when it was time to leave.
There were a lot of reasons for this struggle to get him out the door and into the classroom everyday. Bullying, boredom, smells, loud noises – they were all difficult for my little guy.
But the one thing that panicked him most as we left each morning?
He wasn’t verbal enough to tell me the seams felt strange, the scratchy fabric was too much for his sensitive little feet, the top part seemed to squeeze his calf – no, I wouldn’t learn all of this until much later, when I knew the questions to ask.
Instead, he would panic, hide, fight and eventually, meltdown.
Every. Single. Morning.
Socks were required at his school. So were athletic shoes and a variety of other dress code requirements that my rule respecting spirit didn’t even think to challenge.
The following year, we made the decision to homeschool. All year-long, I said the best part of our decision was not having to wear socks every day. I quickly learned however, now that I was paying more attention to his daily routine and requirements, that socks were not the only culprit.
The scratchy polo shirt required by the private school hybrid one day a week.
Shoes for playing at the park, in the sand.
The tags on the undies.
All the trips to the shoe section at Target, the stores at the mall and the orders on amazon – trying, desperately to find shoes that would work.
This really wasn’t new. When he was in first grade, he wore tennis shoes three sizes too big, and tripped all the time, because he didn’t like the way the proper size felt on his feet. But I thought it was my fault. I believed the therapist who said “If you would just make him wear shoes and socks, every day for two weeks, he will get used to it and stop manipulating you.”
With so much regret now, I will share that I made him wear shoes and socks every day for two years, determined to fix my parenting flaws. He never got used to it. If anything, he fought it more.
My Child Won’t Wear Socks!
The Child Mind Institute describes Sensory Processing Disorder in this way.
Some kids seem to have trouble handling the information their senses take in—things like sound, touch, taste, sight, and smell. Besides these common senses, there are also two other less well known ones that can be affected—proprioception, or a sense of body awareness, and vestibular sense, which involves movement, balance, and coordination.
Kids with sensory processing issues experience too much or too little stimulation through these senses. They may also have difficulty integrating sensory information.
Sensory Processing Disorder affects both of my children.
Both struggle with finding comfortable clothing and have me cut the tags out of everything. Both meltdown when the feeling of socks and/or shoes is just too much.
Over the years, I have learned that getting dressed each day is more of a struggle than I ever realized for my boys. I have also learned ways to help make it a little bit easier.
Dressing A Child With Sensory Processing Disorder
Explore Options Together
It makes a big difference when explore options for dress together, when they are calm and there is no pressure. Because my oldest really struggles with communicating how his body feels, we go to the store and try different options. He really doesn’t like this, so I try to encourage him. “We are just looking today. Let’s see which one is your favorite. Where do these shoes feel tight on your feet?”
Rewards are not bribes. I have to remind myself of this all the time. For example, my dad bought me a ten-speed bike when I got straight A’s in fifth grade. He told me it was because I worked so hard and achieved something important. The same applies here. My boys have to work hard to wear formal clothing and shoes. When it cannot be avoided, we reward them for their efforts.
Ask For Accommodation
My oldest is now in a hybrid high school program. Before his first PE class, I emailed the teacher and let him know that we were working on finding a pair of athletic shoes that felt comfortable for my son. I asked if it might be OK for my son to wear his crocs for the first couple classes until he felt comfortable with the PE routine and then promised we would add in the pressure of shoes. The teacher was happy I had let him know, and my son received the accommodation he needed to be successful in the class.
Be Prepared to Let It Go For A Bit
Sometimes, it just makes sense to let them wear what they want to wear and are comfortable in, no matter how much it makes you cringe. Anytime there is not a pressing requirement for dress, I allow my kids to wear the clothes and shoes they choose. It means we are always in flip-flops and crocs (even in the rain and cold). It means I have to fend off other folks at the store who feel the need to comment on my allowing my son to wear shorts in the winter.
It also means they feel a sense of control. I am learning this is critical to long-term success in managing and thriving with sensory issues. As my son gets older, he is more willing to try new options for dress, without my ever bringing up a thing. Because he feels like he is in control, he is more willing to make the decision to dress appropriately for the occasion.
He’s come a long way from beginning every one of his school days with so much stress over socks.
I couldn’t possibly ask for more.
My Family’s Favorites For Dressing With Sensory Processing Disorder
There are a few changes we’ve made, just like the crocs without any socks, that have a made a significant differences in my boys’ ability to cope with both getting dressed, and staying dressed each day.
1. Loose Fitting Clothing
I cannot stress the difference this has made for my kiddos.
Instead of my trying to add cute polos and khakis to the cart, we have instead opted for sweatpants, soft t-shirts with the tags cut out, and workout shorts. I don’t always love the look in pictures, but I do love how comfortable they are in their own skin, when they are allowed to dress according to their sensory needs.
2. Temperature and Sensory Issues
I have one child who “runs hot.” What this practically looks like is shorts in the winter and the aforementioned inappropriate footwear no matter what the weather.
Turns out, temperature regulation is often a part of sensory processing issues. It falls under the subtype of sensory processing disorder called – Sensory Discrimination.
“Another category of SPD is Sensory Discrimination Disorder, or difficulty in distinguishing one sensation from another, or in understanding what a sensation means. Children may have difficulty with touch (poor body awareness, including sensations of pain and temperature), movement and balance, body position and muscle control, sight (confusing likenesses and differences in pictures), sounds, and tastes (e.g., distinguishing between the lemons, vinegar, or soap).” – Smart Kids with LD.Org
I used to feel guilty about him never keeping his jacket on or refusing to wear the snow boots. Now, as long as they’re is no actual danger of frost bite, I let him wear what he is most comfortable in – goodness knows, he will show me or tell me when it is not working!
3. Letting Go Of Expectations Around Dress
This was the most difficult part for me. Far more difficult than finding options that worked, was accepting that my boys might sometimes look a little unkept or inappropriate for the day’s activities.
When I finally let go of all of my own expectations, my children began to relax as well. They didn’t fight so much when there was a very special, unusual need to dress up. As they have gotten older, this has practically resolved itself, as they understand that a t-shirt is simply not appropriate for a funeral.
Time may be what matters most in all of this. Hang in there!
Want an inside look at how Sensory Processing Disorder has affected my family?
I answer all your questions and more in this video from my new YouTube Channel –
Are you homeschooling a child with sensory processing disorder?
My child won’t wear socks – it’s the actually one of the reasons we pulled him from school and began this homeschooling journey ten years ago!
Since then, I’ve learned that sensory activities can actually fuel learning and help my son in his overall academic performance. In an effort to help other families homeschooling children with sensory differences, I have put together a resource guide to get you started.
Homeschooling Your Child With Sensory Needs provides information and encouragement and guides you through creating your own sensory focused learning plan.
To support you as best I can right now, you can get the downloadable guide for an additional 20% off HERE using coupon code SENSORY20.
For more ideas and encouragement: