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Sensory Strategies to Improve Independence with Dressing
Every person has different sensory preferences in our everyday lives. Some of us like a very calm environment, warm baths, listening to music, soft textures, or to eat sweet foods. We even have sensory preferences when it comes to dressing. I know I enjoy wearing yoga pants and a loose fitting shirt over dress pants and a dress shirt. My brother also prefers to wear clothes that are soft and loose fitting. As a family, we know that getting dressed every day can be a big chore and we want to help you find sensory strategies to help make the every day task of getting dressed easier for your child/teenager with Autism easier for every one.
Here are some sensory strategies we have found helpful with my brother when it comes to clothing textures:
There are various clothing textures that can bother children when it comes to dressing.
Seams in clothes, some children dislike the feeling of seams
Try finding clothes that are seamless
- Seamless Socks:
- Tank tops:
Texture of the clothes (cotton, wool, or spandex)
- Figure out what types of textures of clothes your child likes and stick with that so that they can feel safe and become less anxious with dressing.
Binding in the clothes (elastic waist bands, overlapping clothes)
- Try finding clothes that will not bind or wrinkle
Loose Clothes or Tight Clothes
- Some children do not like the feeling of loose clothes and may prefer tighter clothes and vice versa.
- See if you can find clothes that are tighter such as compression shirts or under armor shirts
Stiff Clothing (like jeans)
- Some children have a very hard time being able to wear jeans. Try to find pants that they enjoy wearing. If they need to wear jeans for an occasion then try to find jeans with a soft/stretchy texture.
- You could try these stretchy elastic waist jeans
Some children can be bothered by clothing that could touch the child’s head. Be aware of this with your child and notice if hats really bother them.
Shoes can be something that your child might have a hard time with. Some kids prefer closed toes shoes or open toe shoes. Try to find shoes that allow your child to be independent with dressing. If they become frustrated with tying their shoes try elastic shoe laces or velcro shoes. Maybe your child would like light up shoes for fun! Try to find shoes that are comfortable for your child that they can be successful with in dressing.
Weight of the clothing (heavy clothes vs. light clothes). Pay attention to the time of year is your child more bothered by heavy winter clothes or light summer clothes? Is there a way you can take away layers or add layers in textures of clothes that your child still prefers?
When children are bothered by the feeling of their clothes they may constantly tag or pull at their clothes. They may have difficulty needing to change clothes through out the day such as for swimming lessons or after getting dirty. If you child does become bothered by changing clothes, try to limit the number of times they will need to change their clothes. Also shopping for new clothes may cause a lot of stress. See if you can do more shopping online where they have free returns so you don’t have to cause too much stress for your family.
Children can also have visual and auditory preferences with clothing and this is something to consider.
If your child becomes very irritated by the clothing texture, see if you can find textures of clothes that they are more comfortable in. Don’t force them to wear clothes that they really dislike wearing.
If you find a certain texture of clothing that your child/teenager is more likely to wear such as a loose fitting shirt that is cotton, when they need to find clothes for a different occasion such as a wedding, try to find a dress shirt made out of cotton that is a little looser feeling.
I know it may feel super time consuming trying to find clothes that are similar in feeling for different occasions, but once you are able to find something to help your child be successful and more independent with dressing and have less meltdowns with the dressing process, this can make your family’s life a lot easier.
- Find the texture of clothes that your child prefers and avoid ones that your child really does not like
- If they need to wear a certain type of fabric they do not like, try having them wear a clothing texture they do like under the clothes so their body does not have to feel the texture they don’t like.
- If needed, the child can wear clothing inside out so they do not feel the seams.
- Try warming up the clothes in the dryer before needing to get dressed if your child prefers warm feelings.
- You may try washing clothes multiple times to make if more soft.
- Set up the environment for success by setting out the clothes for them or making sure they are easily accessible in their room for them to get dressed more independently.
- You can also try labeling the dresser drawers or organizing their closet with specific types of clothing in certain areas to make it easier for them to find the different types of clothes.
- Use hooks or hangers at eye level for the child to be able to visually see all of the items.
- Provide a visual checklist of each step of dressing to help the child visually see how to get dressed.
- Provide a rewards chart with stickers for your child to visually see a reward they can work towards with getting dressed independently every day.
- If your child likes music, try playing music while getting dressed.
- Make up a silly song about getting dressed and sing it together while your child is getting dressed.
- Use a mirror to help your child visually see how they are getting dressed.
- You can model the behavior you want with them when it comes to getting dressed so they can visually see how to put that item of clothing on.
- Allow for extra time in the morning and night to allow your child to practice each skill and become more independent. That way you don’t feel so rushed. If it is hard to have extra time in the morning, make it a priority to practice the dressed skills at night when you aren’t feeling rushed to leave in the morning.
- Before getting dressed in the morning or before bed, talk about the dressing process and tell them the exact steps that need to be accomplished so they know the routine.
- Try calming activities before getting dressed with a massage
- Complete deep pressure or heavy work activities before getting dressed such as squeezes, jumping on the trampoline, crab walk, or bear crawl.
If your family is still struggling to with dressing, please contact your local occupational therapist and they will be able to provide you with specific strategies for your child and family.
Please let me know if there are certain types of clothes that work well for your child or teenager and I would love to add them to the list to help provide a comprehensive dressing resource for families! Please leave a comment about them below!
Are you feeling overwhelmed? Are you looking for Resources to help your family find information about Autism? We have created an amazing FREEBIE with over 180+ Autism and Special Needs Resources just for you!
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Sensory Processing Books
My family and I wanted to combine a list of various sensory processing books that we have gone to for resources to learn how to best help my brother and the kids that we have worked with. The sensory system and world is very complex and can be difficult to understand when we can’t feel what the other person is feeling or going through. We wanted to learn as much as we could to best be able to help our brother with his day to day activities and to help keep him in a calm state where he can best learn. We have found these books to be excellent resources and we hope you will too!
The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz
The Out-of-Sync Child Grows Up: Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder in the Adolescent and Young Adult Years by Carol Kranowitz and Lucy Jane Miller
The Out-of-Sync Child has Fun, Revised Edition: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder by Carol Kranowitz
Raising a Sensory Smart Child: the Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues, Revised Edition by Lindsey Biel, Nancy Peske & Temple Grandin
Understanding Your Child’s Sensory Signals: A Practical Daily Use Handbook for Parents and Teachers by Angie Voss
The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross W. Greene (this is a behavior book with very good reviews)
Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) by Lucy Jane Miller
We hope that you have found this list to be helpful for your own learning purposes to best be able to help your loved ones. We want to be here to help you and provide you with support and encouragement. Please let us know which books you have found helpful or if you have another book you would like to add to the list!
Are you feeling overwhelmed with various information about Autism or having a hard time find good resources? This post is part of our FREE resource that we have created with tons of information and Autism and Special Needs Resources! You will be able to find tons of information such as websites, blogs, podcasts, books, support groups, transition to adulthood resources and MORE! If you would like to download this FREE resource please provide your name and email address in the boxes below!
Please let us know in the comments below what you think about the resources and if there is anything you are struggling with as a parent with your child with Autism currently? We would love to provide you with resources and encouragement!
Are you looking for more books about Autism and children with disabilities?
Check out our post about 21 Books to Help you Better Understand Autism. and 13 Children’s Books About Disabilities
Lastly, check out our post on 5 Ways to Better Understand Autism for more information
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My brother has always had a difficult time with taking baths and showers because he hated having water get on his face or in his eyes. Don’t get me wrong he loved being in the water, but as soon as he would be splashed in the face in the pool or we would have to go to wash his hair in the bath, a flood of anxiety and fear would come over him. He has had this difficulty ever since he was little and he is still learning to decrease his anxiety with water on his face. It wasn’t until this year that he has now been able to wash his face and hair more independently (14 years later). We wanted to share the tips and tricks that we have used to help my brother decrease his anxiety with water getting on his face to allow him to be more independent with these skills.
Tips to Decrease Anxiety with Water Getting on the Face for a Child with Sensory Processing Difficulties
What we did first was recognize this was a fear for my brother and we were always patient and understanding with him. Something that my mother has been working on this past year with my brother is working on identifying what his fears are and understanding that fear is an emotion. These emotions can come from what you are thinking, and they have been working on changing his thinking to a positive thought to help him create a solution. So for example, before taking a shower or washing his face at the sink they would state positive statements about putting water on his face. They would say, “I will be able to get my face wet or I am calm and I can do this.”
These were ways that we were slowly able to decrease fear for my brother with getting water on his face.
He was very motivated to go swimming, so during the summer we were constantly at the pool, going to water parks, or playing outside in the sprinkler. He was usually having so much fun during these activities that when he would get water on his face we would always make sure we had a beach towel near by or he would wear a swim shirt that he could use to help wipe off the water on his face to help decrease his anxiety. We were constantly exposing him to activities that were motivating to him where he would be exposed to water on his body.
Other fun ways we would expose him to water were through water balloon fights and using a bubble machine outside with bubbles popping around him. Again, we would always have a towel near by him, but during the activities he was happy and excited having fun!
When we were swimming in the pool, we would constantly be trying to teach him how to hold his breath or blow out of his nose when he would go under water. As well as closing his eyes under water. We would play games to help motivate him to make it more fun. We would always demonstrate for him so he could see how to do it. We would try to make it motivating and be super excited over the top if just the littlest bit of his face touch the water such as his chin. We would give tons and tons of praise and encouragement.
It took us many many years for him to be more comfortable with getting his face wet in the pool, but we never gave up. Even today he still does not prefer to go underwater and we are still working on learning how to swim, but every year we are making progress. We learn to celebrate every little victory along the way.
Now this year, we have been working really hard with being independent with showering and washing our face. Now that we are going through puberty we also get to work on these skills to help us prevent breakouts. We started a new acne medicine for our face this year, so that has also helped increase the motivation for my brother to want to learn the skill so he can decrease the acne. My mother has learned to be so patient with him in helping him learn these skills.
These are ways that we have helped him learn to wash his face on his own:
- He used a face mist blower (something he liked) to help him get used to the feeling of water on his face.
- He would wash his face at the sink with just a wet wash cloth (my mother would have to do it first, then she would have him slowly increase his ability to use the wash cloth himself)
- They slowly increased splashing water on his face by getting his hands wet and having him touch his face then slowly add more water over time.
- Finally, they had him get in the shower and use a wash cloth in the shower to wash his face.
- NOTE: He would always have a dry wash cloth or towel right next to him so that he could dry his face off if it was too much for him.
- This was a very long process and took a lot of patience and practice. We think it went better for him this year because he was motivated to get rid of the acne on his face.
These are ways that we helped him learn to shower more independently:
- In the beginning my mom would be in the bathroom and available for him if he needed anything, this helped to decrease the anxiety.
- We first talked about the importance of why we need to take a shower and how we need to smell good when we are around other people. This was the first year that he has ever mentioned that he wants to get married (over the past two years my sister and I both got married and he realized that he would need to get married if he wants to carry our families last name). So my mom would make sure to talk about how if he wants to get a girl friend he needs to smell nice and this has been motivating to him.
- When they were at the dermatologist, my mother had the doctor explain the importance of showering and washing our face to him, which had a bigger impact on him then my mom telling him that. He seems to do well with taking advice from doctors.
- While my brother was taking the shower there was always a towel available hanging over the edge of the shower.
- To wash his hair, my mom would use a large cup and place a was cloth over his face and he would tilt his head back and let my mom wash his hair for him. They would slowly transition away from this by having him participate more with washing his hair and having him do more of it on his own, such as having him put the shampoo in or slowly pour some water on his head.
- Washing his hair is something he has always had a really hard time with and he still needs help at times from my mom to help him, but he is doing so much more of it on his own! He will be doing it on his own in no time!
- Also they learned that he does better with taking a shower night before going to bed as the warm water helps him go to sleep. Try to figure out the best time of day that works for your child.
Here are some other strategies that we have used over the years to help decrease anxiety as well:
- Installing a “rain” shower head
- Installing a handheld shower nozzle to give him a sense of control
- Sometimes we would just take a bath
- Warm up the bathroom ahead of time to make the temperature change less dramatic
- Play music while in the shower or bath for fun and a distraction
- Have fun bath toys in the shower or bath tub
- Mr. Bubbles foam soap for fun in the bath
- Using a schedule and sticking to it. When we figured out a night time routine worked well we have been sticking with it.
- We would sometimes use baby wipes to help clean off at times
- We have heard dry shampoo can be helpful
- When we used a wash cloth or shampooing his hair we tried to use slow deep pressure. Slow deep pressure is more organizing than light touch.
- Finding soap products that they like (some kids prefer scents and some prefer no scents) Allow them to participate in picking out the soaps to give them more independence.
- Use motivators whenever possible. We were constantly trying to figure out what motivated my brother to help make it more fun and turn it into a goal that he wanted to meet!
We hope that these tips and suggestions can be helpful for you and your family to help make bathing a better routine for everyone. As a family we are always working on this skill and taking it day by day and celebrating every little victory. We would love to learn if you have more suggestions that have worked for your family!
Please let these suggestions remind you that you are not alone and together we can grow and learn from each other.
Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia!
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School is OUT! I remember being so so so excited for summer vacation as a child and loving every aspect of summer! I loved going to the pool and spending time more time with my mom! I will cherish these memories for a lifetime!
What are the best ways to create lasting memories that your child will remember for years to come?
Think back to your childhood, what are memories that stand out to you? Sure, I remember some of my favorite vacations with going to amusement parks and the ocean, but ones that stand out to me are going on bike rides around town, playing on the swing set in the back, having a water balloon and silly string fight in the front yard…just to name a few. What stands out to me are FUN and somewhat simple experiences!
Here are 27 Ideas to help you create your own wonderful memories with your family this summer!
- Spend time OUTSIDE! Connect children to nature at least 1 hour a day where they can learn and explore.
- Go Swimming
- Go Biking together and explore new trails and paths around your city or explore new cities together
- Go fishing together
- Grow a Garden together and teach your children how to care for the plants
- Have an outdoor picnic
- Play in the rain, splash in the puddles, make mud pies
- Search for flowers and bugs outside
- Go on a hike on a nature trail and search for birds
- Set up a butterfly or hummingbird garden to observe throughout the summer
- Catch fire flies at night
- Have a campfire and roast marshmallows
- Camp in the back yard
- Search for things at night with a flashlight (a memory that stands out to me with using a flashlight was searching for night crawlers outside with my dad to go fishing with)
- Teach your children how to listen to different bird sounds and set up a bird feeder to learn the different types of birds in your area
- Blow Bubbles outside
- Write and draw with Sidewalk Chalk in the driveway
- Have a water balloon fight, play with the hose outside and run through the sprinkler, or play on the slip and slide
- Have a silly string fight
- Play kickball outside
- Play basketball
- Play flashlight tag at night
- Start a rock collection and learn about the rocks you find outside
- Help your children learn different responsibilities around the house by creating a chore list and find ways to make the chores fun (such as dancing and singing while sweeping or mopping the floor or create contests while doing a chore
- Ask your kids if there is a new skill they would like to learn such as how to play an instrument, a new sport, or how to cook different meals
- Have your children help you with meal ideas for the week and let them help you in the kitchen
- Make a mess in the kitchen with your kids and have fun while doing it!
- Do Yoga poses every day together either inside or outside
I hope these ideas can help inspire you to make simple, but lasting memories with your kids that will last a lifetime with them!
I also wanted to share with you an amazing resource from And Next Comes L, where Dyan has created an ebook with a list of over 600 Everyday Sensory Play Experiences! Everyday Sensory Play lists 600+ everyday sensory activities designed to give your children the right sensory input that they want and need!
We hope that you have a wonderful fun filled summer with your children and would love to hear about the wonderful memories you are making with your children or past childhood summer memories!