My daughter couldn't stand to wear jeans when she was younger and who could blame her? In those days, they didn't have jeggings and stretch denim, so to get jeans to fit, there were buttons and elastic that cinched the stiff fabric in uncomfortably at the waist and left red crinkle marks on the skin. She lived in leggings as a kid and to this day -- now in university -- leggings are still her pants of choice. Scratchy tags and seams were also an issue back then, so every piece was carefully inspected to ensure that we could at least doctor it up to make it wearable for her.
Now, after 11 years of outfitting tweens and speaking with parents about the unabashedly human experience of raising kids, I've come to realize that my daughter's sensitivities were not only common, but relatively minor in comparison to some of the challenges families are facing in meeting the needs of kids who have sensory issues.
The special features we think of as "nice to have", such as soft and tactile-pleasing fabrics, no tags, and flat seams for comfort, become an imperative. Many people are extra-sensitive to the texture and feel of clothing, including those with Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, Autism, Tourette's, those who need to wear clothing underneath braces, or those who just feel fabrics more acutely, due to sensitive skin.
One mom wrote into us, that our clothing had changed her family's life. Her daughter had been wearing a neoprene pressure vest for two years, to keep her calm and comfortable. Someone had given her some hand-me-downs that her daughter had put on, made of technical performance fabric with four-way stretch that provided some moderate compression, and was moisture-wicking.
She said that her daughter put it on, and immediately felt like it was her second skin. Calm. Happy. And liberated from the hot vest, she could just breathe. They were all happier to see her feeling so much better.
It was the second time that month that I'd spoken with a family that had shared their experiences in the quest for calm. Their autistic daughter loved our luxurious Minky fabrics and everything pink. Shopping had always been difficult, because the barrage of lights and sounds of a mall, were all too much for her. But somehow, she found "peace" in our store, where colour and texture spoke to her senses.
While I'm not a trained expert, I feel that there is so much that we can do to be more conscious and inclusive of children with special needs, and reduce the stress of getting dressed, so I asked our team members to collaborate on a list of the things that they've learned from parents and their children. Here are our shared experiences and inclusive solutions for how to best help your child feel happy and comfortable in their clothes:
1. Know What You're Looking For: Watch for soft and breathable fabrics, tagless shirts and pants, covered elastic bands, no metal parts, heavy embroidery, appliques, thick graphics, and flat finishes on the inside of each garment. Extra-soft technical synthetics can become addictingly attractive in their softness and movement, often the only things that some children will want to wear.
Soft, natural fibers like cotton and bamboo rayon may also be an option, particularly for sleepwear where cheaper synthetics may feel weird to some kids with sensory issues. Some will want texture to touch as a calming feature against anxiety while others may find too much texture a distraction, (no dash) and end up fiddling with their clothing at school.
2. Let Your Child Choose: Allow the child to select clothing as often as possible. Believe your child when he or she says their clothes are irritating. Use the opportunity to find a solution to the problem together. Some basic items like a seamless tank underneath may help make other clothes more tolerable. And when you find something that works really well, buy multiples, even the next size up, so that your child feels that they have choices when they get dressed each day and are in control of what is happening so that they feel more secure and can take their time.
3. Be Patient: "I am a mom of a son who is now eight that has anxiety and sensory issues. The one thing that I have learned along the way is PATIENCE! I had a hard time understanding what all of this meant as I didn't have this issue with my older daughter. I found that in the beginning, especially when he was not verbal, that seeking out multiple specialists, therapists and attending support groups to get through the really rough early years kept me sane.
I was very embarrassed about what our family was going through but I also was very shocked to find out how many other families were going through the exact same thing. It is really hard to keep your composure when your child is having a complete meltdown in the middle of the store and you have no idea why and it's simply because a stranger brushed up against him or someone looked at him funny. "The biggest we can do is not fight the sensory stuff, but simply show compassion to those trying cope.
4. Trial and Error: "I had one girl fall in love with a top she put on, it looked great on her, but within seconds you could see by her facial expressions there was a problem. She started squirming and pulling it away from her skin. She looked at her mom and said 'I have to get this off!' almost with a sense of panic." Sometimes, even when it feels fine in the store a child may notice all kinds of irritating things about their clothing and can't wear it in their day-to-day life. You'll need to experiment since even small irritants like a too-tight cuff or a nagging tag can feel unbearable or irritating to the point of distraction, causing distress and frustration particularly at busy or stressful times.
5. Choose Clothes that Won't Bunch Up: For all kids with sensory processing issues, choose socks that won't slouch or slip down inside shoes or look for seamless socks. For girls, find a bra that fits without slipping down her shoulders like a sports bra or a racerback style. Boys' briefs often are more comfortable than boxers and may also work well for girls who have issues with the elastic at the leg of panties. Some will want looser garments, while others will want compression, heavy garments, or layers that sit snugly against the skin to give them security. Opt for pullovers instead of zip-ups and pull-on pants or leggings rather than things that could prove irritating or bunch up fabric into a pressure point.
One mom, whose daughter falls along the autism spectrum, shared that it can be difficult to understand what a girl who is experiencing these kinds of sensory issues might be feeling. Her doctor had told her to imagine what it might be like to have to wear a wool sweater all day, when you have an extreme sensitivity to that fabric, and how irritated and distracted it would make you feel. For someone with these sensitivities, it's not just an inconvenience, but can make or break their day.
It is difficult to fully comprehend the experience of someone with special needs. However, drawing from my personal experiences, including those of being a mom and the creator of a fashion brand focused on comfort, I can attest to the difference soft and comfortable materials can make on one's mood. Clothing plays an important part in all of our lives, especially those with sensory sensitivities, and the tactile experience can be as meaningful as the style when it comes to feeling good.
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