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Children with autism often have sensory issues that make sounds, smells, sights, and textures difficult to tolerate. When a child with autism is able to communicate and describe what they don’t like then it is fairly easy to resolve the issue. However, if a child with autism is non verbal, they may have a bit more difficulty expressing what exactly is triggering their senses.
To exacerbate the communication difficulty is the fact that sensory issues in children with autism cause them to struggle to the extent that everything else that is happening around them becomes secondary or insignificant. They are hyper focused on the sensory overwhelm, and they can’t think about anything else. They may become irrational and frustrated, acting out or tantruming all because of a material that is bothering them, and you’ll never know it.
Many parents see this kind of behavior when their children with autism are taken to new environments, such as getting a haircut. They may not understand why their child is acting out, or what’s upsetting them. Sometimes it’s the environment, but more often, it’s actually what the child is wearing. And because it’s so difficult for the child with autism to communiciate, it is tough to recognize clothing sensitivities in children with autism.
What is fabric sensitivity?
Perhaps you have experienced the following scenario: a well meaning relative buys a holiday sweater for you. To show your appreciation, you put it on. Ten minutes later, you are itchy and hot. Not only that, the label is also scratching the back of your neck to the point that it feels like your neck is being rubbed raw.
Children with autism who have sensory sensitivities associated with clothing can feel very uncomfortable (as described above) with a variety of clothing and fabrics. It might even surprise you that a simple cotton shirt could be a potential sensory issue. Perhaps the label is annoying your child or maybe the shirt is rubbing against their body in the wrong way.
Take notice of how your child responds to different fabrics when you buy new clothing. How does your child respond to:
A fabric does not have to be itchy or heavy to cause a problem. A light, silky material might tickle or stick to them when they sweat and cause annoyance. It will vary from child to child.
Does my child have sensory issues with clothing?
A good way to determine if your child has sensory issues with their clothing is how they respond when it is time to get dressed. Children with autism appreciate repetition and rely on routine. When it comes to clothing, the reliance on repetition and routine transcends, and children with autism tend to gravitate to the same items of clothing. Sometimes this repetition is connected with comfort.
If your child has tantrums over getting dressed or seems inconsolable after being dressed, you might consider whether something that he/she is wearing is irritating him/her.
If your child repeatedly removes certain items of clothing, you might be able to determine what the common cause is with the items that he/she is removing.
How do you fix sensory issues on clothes?
The best approach to helping your child with clothing sensitivity issues is to figure out what bothers them. While there are some ABA therapy skills and sensory tools available to help them cope, the best method is to find out what material bothers them, and remove the triffer. It may take some time, and it might take some trial and error as you try to find a solution by trying various clothing items.
Here are some things to consider as you try to identify the offending fabric or item(s) of clothing that may be causing the distress:
Whether the elastic is on a pair of sweats or pajama bottoms it would be prudent to check and make sure that there are no red marks left behind. Check the waistline, wrists, and even ankles to make sure that socks with elasticity are not causing pain or/and limiting circulation. Diapers that are too tight around thighs fall into this category as well.
Check for holes that toes can slip through and hurt. Long socks that won’t stay up or short socks that roll down into shoes can be annoying.
Any item of clothing that is too loose can turn into frustration if the child is continually fixing, pulling up, or tripping over fabric or lacings. This is also a hazard.
Clothing that is too tight is uncomfortable. It can cause chafing, and in rare cases it can actually lead to small injuries like open sores.
Change a child immediately if they are in damp clothing. Damp clothing isn’t comfortable, and it can cause a chill or in some cases it can cause yeast infections. Yeast infections are associated with prolonged wearing of wet swimwear or damp underwear.
Some children don’t like long sleeves, and they will show their disdain for long sleeves by pushing them up on all of their long sleeve shirts. The same irritation can be true for any length, and it can only be determined by observing how your child responds to various sleeve lengths.
Make sure buttons don’t dig into the belly button on jeans or slacks.
Use caution and try to avoid zipping skin into the zipper on pants, shirts, and jackets. Zippers can also cause irritation against the skin on certain items of clothing, and if the head of the zipper flips inward toward their skin it can be problematic.
Anyone who has put a shirt on only to find that their hair is pasted against their face can relate to this. A good solution is to use fabric softener or use a fabric softener sheet to rub against hair or clothing to tame the static. For hair, a quick squirt of hair spray on a brush and a quick brush through the hair usually calms things down.
A neckline that leans against the throat can feel constricting. If you see your child pulling the neckline on a shirt, sweater, or jacket it is very likely due to the constricting feeling against the throat.
Labels can feel like a bolt of electricity or a hot match against the skin if they are left to rub against the skin over and over. Cut them off immediately.
Make sure your child is wearing comfortable shoes with comfortable socks. Be sure that the shoes are neither too loose or too tight, and make sure there are no points where the shoes are rubbing and causing blisters.
Too Hot Or Cold
A child with autism may not make the best choices when getting dressed according to the weather. Be sure they can stay warm in the cold weather and cool in the hot weather. Teach them to dress appropriately for comfort.
If clothing seems appropriate and your child is still showing signs of discomfort, it could be skin irritation due to weather or a mild skin condition. Check for dry, flaky skin or mild irritation and treat accordingly.
Children with autism are notorious for going through phases where they have particular preferences. For example, a child might insist on wearing only red shirts for a time and resist all other colors.
Your best strategy as a parent is to observe and teach your child with autism to communicate what is bothering them. Sometimes this is teaching them to point at something and say no.
If you are struggling with a child who has autism, and you suspect sensory issues are a possibility, Circle Care Services in New Jersey is here to help. Our staff is equipped to help your child and your family with communication, social skills, behavior concerns, and parent training. Call us now.