How to Help Autistic Children Keep Their Shoes On

By sandra.caplesc…, 3 November, 2022
A shot of a pair of kids shoes.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that comes with many challenges that you need to overcome. One of them might be struggling with keeping clothes or, in this case, shoes on. Due to sensory issues, children on the autism spectrum might find it challenging to put on shoes AND keep them on their feet. They are also more sensitive to bright lights and loud sounds.

But why does such a simple task of wearing shoes lead to tears and meltdowns?

It might seem simple to you, but children with autism spectrum might find it challenging to cope with, especially if they dislike change and routine. Sensory issues can also prevent your little one from wearing shoes properly. Some don’t like the feeling of them on their feet, their color, or even how restrictive they feel.

This article will explain why children have difficulty keeping shoes and clothes on and how to help them keep them on.

Why Autistic Children Struggle with Shoes

Several factors contribute to this aversion, such as:

Sensory Issues

One of the main reasons why autistic children don’t wear shoes is due to sensory sensitivities or sensory processing disorder, often associated with ASD. Sensory processing disorder causes hypersensitivity to specific materials, elements, and textures, such as shoes or socks. This makes it difficult to cope while wearing shoes.

Foot Pain

Another reason why your autistic child does not like shoes is because of foot pain. This can result from injury, physical conditions like the shape or size of feet, or other medical conditions. Foot conditions can amplify the pain the child is feeling and limit movement.

If you suspect your child is dealing with foot pain, contact your pediatrician or your child’s occupational therapist.


Some children experience fine motor skill delays resulting in difficulty tying their shoelaces. Putting shoes on becomes a stressful experience that might trigger meltdowns and increase the reluctance to wear shoes.

How to Help

It can be challenging to convince an autistic child to put on shoes. Here are some tips on how to turn this into a more positive experience.

Find the Right Pair of Socks

Children with autism are often sensitive to the seams of their socks, so this might be why your child hates wearing shoes. Seamless socks are more comfortable and provide relief if your child has sensitive feet.

Many brands offer sensory-friendly socks with non-skid bottoms, seamless toes, and pull-up loops to help children put socks on more quickly. These socks are also made with cotton, bamboo, or silk.

Discover the Best Fabrics for Babies.

Use a Social Story

Social stories are often used to aid communication and help children understand a specific event. You can easily create a social story using pictures and symbols and make your child understand the importance of wearing shoes.

You can explain why people have to wear shoes, their purpose, and why they are needed in society. This can help your little one better understand why he needs to wear shoes—it can even become part of their routine.

Measure the Correct Shoe Size

When choosing shoes for your child, it’s essential to have the correct shoe size. Shoes that are too tight will provoke pain and might even prevent foot growth. Regularly measure and match shoes—this way, you’ll avoid potential issues, and your child will be more eager to wear shoes.

Find an Alternative to Laces

Sometimes, buckle and lace-up shoes can feel restrictive. It might be why your child won’t keep their shoes on. As a result, hook-and-loop fastening is a better choice. This way, the child will wear their shoes as loose or tight as they wish. You might also replace your child’s regular laces with quick-release or no-tie elastic laces.

Check If Your Child Needs Orthotics

If your child has musculoskeletal problems or walking difficulties, your child can go to a podiatrist. The specialist will assess their feet and gait and determine whether they need additional support aids.

As a result, the podiatrist might prescribe orthotics or foot orthoses, which are special shoe inserts that provide foot support and improve posture.

Buy Adaptive Shoes

Adaptive shoes are designed for adults and children with special needs. These shoes are incredibly comfortable and come with pull tabs and adjustable straps. This makes it easier to put on and take off than regular shoes. In addition, adaptive shoes are orthotics-friendly.

What Types of Sensory-Friendly Shoes Are Available for Children with Autism?

Sensory-friendly shoes are designed to help autistic kids cope with sensory overload. Usually, they are made of soft fabrics and come in different sizes and shapes; this way, the child can focus more easily on the task at hand while reducing outside stimuli.

You can find different types of sensory-friendly footwear on the market, such as:

  • Non-skid soles
  • Sensory socks
  • Soft-soled shoes
  • Velcro closures
  • Rubber soles
  • Anti-microbial insoles

The Best Adaptive Shoe Brands

Many brands offer adaptive shoes for children with sensory processing disorder or autism.

Here are the most popular brands you can try:


Vans has an autism acceptance collection designed for children with sensory processing disorders. This collection features shoes that slip on with pull tabs or close with fasteners. The shoes in this collection come only in muted colors that appeal to children who find vibrant colors too overstimulating.

Stride Rite

Stride Rite has a wide range of children’s shoes with flexible soles, hook-and-loop fasteners, and soft memory foam footbeds. They are comfortable and easy to put on. In addition, if you donate an old pair of shoes to charity, you receive 20% off your purchase.


Many Skechers sneakers have Velcro straps or a pull-top loop that can easily slip off your child’s feet. Furthermore, the shoes have gel-infused memory foam, making them lightweight, durable, and more comfortable.


These shoes support a child’s natural movement and promote healthy foot development. Made from soft and pliable leather, they feature convenient hook-and-loop closure. Their shoes comply with the strictest safety standards.

BILLY Footwear

This brand offers functional footwear with zippers that go all the way along the side and around the toes. This feature allows them to open and fold over entirely, making them comfortable and easy to put on.


This brand is popular among children with autism due to the shoes’ comfort and flexibility. Most styles have no-tie stretchy laces, ideal for children with fine motor skill delays. The shoes are easily washable and latex-free.


This is a good pick for children with ankle-foot orthoses or supra-malleolar orthosis, which supports the foot above the ankle. Plae footwear is flexible and wide and has extended Velcro straps.

Hatchbacks Footwear

Hatchbacks set themselves apart with hinged shoes that open from the back; this way, they are easier to put on and fit over orthoses.

Nike FlyEase

This line from Nike consists of lace-free adaptive shoes that the child can quickly put on and take off. The shoes have responsive foam that adapts to your child’s movements, making them very comfortable to wear.

Steve Madden

Steve Madden has a small collection of adaptive shoes for kids. The shoes feature dual zippers, elastic laces, and removable socks for extra space.

Keeping Pace Orthopedic Footwear

These shoes are specifically designed to be worn with ankle-foot orthoses. You can find a variety of styles and models for toddlers and adults.

Friendly Shoes

The shoes have a patented zipper system and an anti-slip outsole for increased flexibility and safety. The sensory-friendly foam footbeds reduce pain; plus, the styles are wide and lightweight.

Tips for Going to the Shoe Store

You might be worried about going to the shoe store as it can be an overwhelming experience for an autistic child. Shoe stores have rows and rows of shoes differing in colors, textures, and layers; plus, the place can be crowded. All of these factors can trigger stress, anxiety, and meltdowns.

Luckily, there are a few tips you can try to help minimize the triggers and maximize the shopping experience.

Before doing that, you can read Sensory-Friendly Shoes for Kids with Autism.

Measure Your Child’s Feet

One helpful tip is to measure your child’s feet at home before going to the store and ensure they wear the correct size. Coming prepared will ease the situation. You can use special measuring devices such as Brannock or RITZ Stick.

Buy More Pairs of Shoes

During your visit, try to buy more than one pair of shoes. It’s essential to take advantage of the time in your store and eliminate follow-up trips. Once you find a pair of shoes that work, buy a few pairs, even shoes in additional sizes. This way, you will make the transition more accessible to other shoe sizes because the pair is identical to the other one.

If your little one is having difficulty in the store, you can buy the pair and try them on at home. Be sure to check the store’s return policy.

Bring a Calming Item

Bringing a calming item, such as a blanket or a fidget toy, can soothe your child if the trip becomes too overwhelming. These toys will calm the child.

Here are some suggestions: Best Fidget Toys for Autism.

Identify Potential Triggers

As a parent of a child with autism, you need to identify the potential triggers when you go out to the store. For example, a hat can help reduce the light if your child is sensitive to it. Bring some noise-canceling headphones to block sounds. Coming prepared will make your child feel more comfortable.

Prepare in Advance

Children with autism need predictability, so knowing what to expect will allow them to cope better with stressful situations. This will make the transition to an unfamiliar space easier. You can go to the shoe store a day earlier or talk to your child about the upcoming trip. Show them photos of the store or use social stories to let them know what to expect.

Visit During Quieter Hours

If your child struggles with sensory challenges, you can contact the store in advance to find out when they have quieter hours. This way, you can avoid crowds and prevent your little one from getting overwhelmed by too many sounds, noises, and smells.

Reward Your Child

Positive reinforcement can go a long way and make the trip more successful. It will also boost your child’s confidence. You can reward your child with a treat or a fun activity for good behavior and provide lots of praise and attention.