Getting dressed is a simple task. All you have to do is take a piece of clothing and put it on you. However, individuals with autism who have sensory issues or mobility challenges have a hard time getting dressed. Not to mention that a sweater can make them feel itchy if they struggle with sensory processing disorders.
You probably know already since you see it daily. Dressing your child every morning is a constant battle because you can't find anything your little one likes to wear. As soon as you put the shirt on him, he takes it off. It's frustrating, but since they're highly sensitive, they can't stand it. You have to buy comfortable clothing, but there are other tricks you can use to help your child get dressed in the morning.
Discover them in the following paragraphs.
The Reason Behind Sensory Issues
Tactile sensitivity happens because the nervous system can't interpret sensations accurately. When faced with something that causes a sensory overload, the child avoids or withdraws to calm down. Each person has a unique sensory system and sensation they'd like to avoid. When they interfere with daily activities, it can become a concern. That's why your kid cries when he experiences a specific type of texture on his skin. Pants might not feel right on his legs. Instead, he prefers to wear shorts. Even a simple article of clothing such as socks can cause a fuss.
Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) suffer from sensory issues, making them sensitive to sound, taste, touch, and textures. The brain perceives the fabric of certain items of clothing as being uncomfortable.
READ MORE: How to Handle Autism Meltdowns.
Strategies for Dressing Your Child
Fighting with your child every day to get him dressed is frustrating and exhausting. It's so easy to put on a pair of pants, no? But when those pants are uncomfortable to wear, what else can you do but take them off? You need to put yourself in your child's position to begin understanding what he's going through and what the big deal is. It would be best to work towards a solution, not blame your child for not wearing a shirt. And, most of all, don't force them. It's how their brain works, and they are not mature enough to put their needs into words.
So here are the seven best strategies for dressing your sensory-sensitive child.
1. Warm Up the Muscles
Start with the "heavy work." Warming up the muscles is a great way to reduce sensitivity. Occupational therapists describe exercise as any activity that puts deep pressure on the upper body joints through resistance. Shoveling sand into a bucket, carrying heavy objects up and down the stairs, or even falling into piled-up cushions could work.
2. Choose the Right Undergarments
Underwear and socks should be as comfortable as possible. Bunched-up socks or underwear that are too tight and leave a red mark on the skin can ruin one's day. Smart Knit Kids, for example, offers seamless products designed to minimize irritation. Find ultra-soft items made out of breathable fabric, free of chemicals, and smooth to the touch. Choose seamless socks that don't slip and clothes that don't bunch. Also, make sure they don't have tags. These rules apply to all clothing items.
3. Offer Choices and Experiment
In the end, it's all about trial and error. Find out what your child likes and find alternatives. Maybe your child hates tags or doesn't like thighs but prefers leggings. It might take you some extra time during shopping to try on different materials to see what your child wants, but it will make the whole dressing process more tolerable.
It would also help if you allowed your child to select their clothes. Sometimes, he likes to dress in black, or other times he wants to wear colorful clothing. Letting them choose the clothes gives them a feeling of empowerment and control. As a result, the child will go out of their comfort zone more often. Give them two or three options, ideally of different textures, to choose what they see fit.
4. Don’t Force the Issue
It's best if you encourage them to dress, not force them to. It's very tempting to buy socks that look cute but don't quite meet your child's wants. It will only make matters worse if you don't respect their sensory preferences. The kid will fight you more in the future because he thinks you are not there to help or care about his feelings. Try to be patient because no one wins if you fight it. It's simply not worth it.
5. Give Them Time
People are always in a hurry and your mornings are no exception. It's hard for you to keep calm when your child makes a fuss, and you have to push everything to the last minute. Running late puts extra pressure on everyone. Plus, you can't predict what your child will like on that respective day. One day he likes wearing socks; the other, he won't. Giving him a bit of time can be a game-changer. Have some extra time to work on these problems, or choose the outfit before bedtime.
6. Choose Appropriate Clothes
Some children prefer a soft type of clothing. Or they like seamless socks. Others like heavy clothing because of the deep pressure stimulation, such as weighted vests. You can also choose natural clothing made of 100% natural cotton materials that do not irritate the skin. Each child is unique, so try and see which one your kid likes. Also, be flexible about weather-appropriate clothing. Many children are bothered by winter clothes because of the number of layers, so buy appropriate outfits.
7. Reinforce What’s Normal and Not
Your child might not understand why he needs to wear clothes in the first place. Yet walking down on the street naked is a no-no. Your kid needs to understand the difference between what's socially appropriate and what's not. Point out that people are dressed when running errands or use social stories. To make him feel comfortable with dressing, put him in front of the mirror to promote a feeling of safety.
You’ve got this. It might seem like there is no hope, but so what if your child wears mismatched socks one day? Fighting over clothes, in the grand scheme of things, is not worth being stressed over. You and your child can both be happy when the decision to get dressed is mutually beneficial. As they get older, children will find ways to adapt to their sensory sensitivities and outgrow them.
Try to be understanding. When you find yourself getting frustrated, try to imagine how uncomfortable it is for your child. If you are understanding, your child will notice that you care and know that you are there for him. As a result, he will communicate better with you—and you will both have an enjoyable morning experience.