While most families look forward to the warm spring weather, there are some of us who look at the transition in weather with anxiety. Why? Sensory Processing Disorder may make transitions in clothing from season to season difficult. Many children have a great deal of fear and worry about moving from long-sleeved shirts to short sleeves or from pants to shorts. You are not alone if your child is NOT dressing appropriately for the weather conditions outside. According to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation (www.spdfoundation.net) ” 1 in every 20 children may be affected by Sensory Processing Disorder” (SPD). Sensory dysfunctions can occur in any area (or any sense). The largest organ of the human body is the skin, so chances are great that skin receptors may be affected by sensory issues.
Consider the different textures of clothing and their weight. Winter sweaters and coats are heavier and provide much more “input” or information to our body’s receptors than a lightweight cotton t-shirt does. In fact, along with the feeling of touch comes the feeling of pressure and weight that our clothing gives us. Some children and adults with SPD actually report the feeling of light touch as “painful and like nails on a chalkboard.” Additionally, when we wear shorts or t-shirts we are able to feel the breeze on our skin- which can also feel “light” and “tickly.”
What can I do to help my child to dress appropriately for the weather? This is something that I am asked frequently and with every change of season. In fact, I’ve devoted a portion of my book, The Pocket Occupational Therapist to helping children to tolerate clothing, baths, hair and nail trimming. PLEASE know that you are not alone! Many families are having this same issue and feel just as frustrated as you do!
Give your child warning that the seasons are going to change soon. Explain to him that some days are going to get warmer and some are going to stay cool. Show him the calendar and mark off the seasons or times in your location when weather typically changes.
- Let him go through his drawers with you to determine which clothing he may have outgrown since last summer. Let him feel the texture, see the color, and choose which clothing he will most likely wear when it’s warm. Allow him to go shopping with you and have a voice in choosing which clothing is purchased for the summer.
- Offer him two choices of clothing/outfits daily. Giving him control over his clothing can really make him feel in charge of things. Of course, you can pre-select which two choices you offer to ensure that clothing is appropriate for the weather that day.
- Ask him which type of clothing he prefers to wear. Patterns, textures, buttons, seams, and zippers all matter to children with SPD. Their existence on a shirt can cause a child anxiety and discomfort. For example, two summers ago my son absolutely refused to wear any shirts with patterns on them. So, we purchased t-shirts in all solid colors. He tolerated the plain shirts well! The next summer when we went through his drawers he began to cry and show signs of great anxiety. We realized that he now (a year later) had changed and insisted on wearing only shirts with stripes on them……..it’s like playing detective!
- Let him practice before he must actually wear the clothing outside. Give him a day/time in which he will be wearing the clothing. Let’s use shorts for example. “On Saturday, we are going to practice wearing our shorts. You only have to wear them for an hour and will get a sticker (or some reward).” Build up the time he wears the clothing be sure to provide lots of praise and encouragement….this is hard work for him!
The absolute worst thing to do is to force him to wear the clothing that he does not want to wear. How would you like it if someone made you wear a scratchy wool sweater? Choose your battles. Sometimes, it’s better to have a child who is actually dressed rather than one who matches perfectly. Try to relax and stay calm…..your child takes his cues from you!
We KNOW you can do this….remember that you are not alone. Let us know how it goes!
By- Cara Koscinki MOT, OTR/L
Mom to two children with SPD and autism. Author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist– a handbook for caregivers of children with special needs. Questions and answers most frequently asked to OTs with easy to understand answers and fun activities you can do with your child. Order anywhere books are sold. www.pocketot.com