Autism Clothing Issues: Understanding Autism and Sensory Sensitivities with Clothing
J Julia DeNey

Autism Clothing Issues: Understanding Autism and Sensory Sensitivities with Clothing

Nov 22, 2023

Autism brings with it a unique set of challenges, and one aspect that significantly influences the daily experiences of individuals on the spectrum is sensory sensitivities. Many parents and caregivers have questions on how to handle such challenges. We’ll answer some common questions, looking into sensory processing differences in children with autism, examining how hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity shape their perception of the environment. From heightened responses to everyday stimuli to the nuanced challenges in clothing choices, we’ll unravel the impact of sensory sensitivities and offer insights into navigating this complex terrain.

Child Holding Ball

How Does Autism Affect Sensory Sensitivities?

It is estimated that around 90% of children with autism exhibit sensory processing differences or have Sensory Processing Disorder. This essentially means that they perceive and interact with the world around them in a distinct manner. There are two primary manifestations of sensory sensitivities in individuals with autism: hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity.

Hypersensitivity refers to an increased sensitivity to stimuli, where everyday sensory experiences can be intensified. For example, a noise that might be tolerable to others could be perceived as significantly louder and more distressing to someone with hypersensitivity.

On the other hand, hyposensitivity involves a decreased sensitivity to stimuli. Individuals with hyposensitivity, often referred to as sensory seekers, may require more intense stimuli to register and respond to sensory input. This can manifest as a higher pain tolerance, potentially leading them to overlook injuries or engage in activities that involve crashing into furniture without exhibiting the expected sensitivity to pain.

These sensory experiences are not confined to specific moments or environments. Individuals with autism experience the world consistently through these sensory filters, influencing their interactions and reactions across various settings. It's noteworthy that their responses to certain stimuli may change based on their overall sensory load. For instance, a noise that was tolerable yesterday might become distressing today if they are already overstimulated.

The impact of sensory sensitivities is a pervasive aspect of how individuals with autism navigate and perceive the world around them, influencing their daily experiences and responses.

Woman Zipping Up Child's Sensory-Friendly Hoodie

How can Sensory Sensitivities Impact a Child's Clothing Choices?

Many parents find themselves grappling with challenges when it comes to their kids' clothing choices and behaviors, especially those related to sensory sensitivities. A significant portion of these issues can be attributed to children who are hypersensitive to various stimuli. For instance, a seemingly innocuous clothing tag at the back, which might be merely irritating to others, can be genuinely painful for kids with heightened tactile sensitivity. It can feel as though the tag is cutting into their skin, which makes the garment intolerable for them.

Similarly, seams inside clothing that protrude or move around can be exceptionally bothersome for these children. The heightened sensitivity makes them acutely aware of such details, leading to discomfort, and in some cases, even pain. This sensory overload can extend to the point where they become so overwhelmed by the tactile sensations that they find it challenging to focus on anything else, including verbal communication.

This sensitivity isn't limited to clothing features alone but extends to the feel of materials against their skin. Preferences vary widely among individuals, with some children finding comfort in fuzzy, soft textures, while others may find such stimuli overwhelming, especially if the texture is too high-piled. Generally, softer knit materials made of natural materials are perceived as more comfortable, but the specifics can vary significantly from one child to another.

Moreover, considerations like breathability and the overall fabric's impact on movement are crucial factors influencing a child's clothing experience. Issues related to discomfort or restriction of movement further contribute to the intricate web of sensory sensitivities that children with hypersensitivity navigate when it comes to clothing choices.

Common Signs of Kids' Sensory Sensitivities Related to Clothing 

Many children tend to exhibit behaviors such as undressing or constantly tugging at their clothes, possibly as a result of heightened sensitivity. These physical signs can be indicative of a discomfort or a need to alleviate sensory overload. Additionally, children may display variations in their sensitivity levels when wearing specific clothing, especially when they are already dealing with overstimulation.

Key Considerations when Selecting Sensory-Friendly Clothing?

Understanding and addressing the sensory challenges associated with clothing requires careful observation, especially since children may not always be able to articulate their discomfort. It involves identifying the specific elements of clothing that bother them the most and making adjustments accordingly. 

For instance: 

  • Opt for tag-free clothing as a universal solution for the  pain tags cause a lot of these kids.
  • Choose garments with soft, elasticized waistbands to alleviate discomfort caused by tight waistbands or buttons on pants.
  • Ensure that seams lie flat, which can be important for those bothered by seam details.
  • Select jackets without front zippers if the child is sensitive to zippers rubbing against them.
  • Take the time to understand the child's material preferences, as different fabrics can impact comfort significantly. A great place to start are natural fibers and soft knit fabrics.

Selecting sensory-friendly clothing involves a process of trial and error to identify and eliminate the specific elements that contribute to their discomfort.

Best Clothing Brands for Children with Autism

Typically, preferences for clothing among autistic individuals, based on insights from autistic adults and parents, lean towards natural and breathable materials. Many find comfort in loose-fitting garments that provide a sense of freedom, while others prefer tight-fitting clothes for the calming input they offer, akin to compression. Recommendations for specific brands vary, and although occupational therapists might provide assistance, the market for such specialized clothing remains limited.

There are brands, however, who do focus on special needs clothing. Their innovative designs help solve many problems with traditional clothing.

  • Special Kids Company makes zip back sleepers and jum[ers that prevent children from removing their clothes, offering a behavioral solution. 
  • For kids seeking that increased independence, Anyways Clothing is made to be worn inside out and backwards, so kids can put the clothes on any way they’d like. 
  • Sense-ational You offers sensory-friendly, tag-free clothing that will give a sensory comforting experience for your kids. They also offer styles that double as sensory tools that will increase desire to wear the clothing.

Although choices are somewhat limited, but quickly growing, occupational therapists often provide tailored recommendations based on individual needs.

Challenges Faced by Children with Sensory Sensitivities When Dressing

One significant consideration is the transition involved in getting dressed. For individuals with autism, this transition can be particularly challenging, a common experience in the broader context of autism-related transitions. Additionally, there's the potential discomfort associated with moving from a state of undress, which many children naturally prefer, to putting on clothes, especially for those with heightened sensitivity.

One approach is to provide choices, allowing them to have a say in what they wear. Having some control over the experience can alleviate a lot of their anxiety. This can be especially beneficial for children who lean towards being extra sensitive. Visual schedules can be helpful in facilitating this process. Furthermore, having clothes that are easy for them to put on independently can contribute to a sense of control over their sensory experience. Elastic waistbands that they can simply pull on, rather than requiring assistance with buttons, and tops that can be easily pulled over their head are examples of such accessible clothing options.

For adaptive apparel, innovations like magnetic closures on hoodies offer a hands-on and manageable way for individuals to control their interaction with clothing. This approach not only fosters independence but also provides a sense of control, allowing them to actively participate in their dressing routine and sensory experiences.

Autistic child in sensory friendly joggers and compression tee happy stimming with bubbles!

How to Make Dressing Easier for Children with Autism?

Create a Visual Schedule for Dressing

Using a visual schedule can greatly assist in preparing and guiding individuals through the process of getting dressed. A visual schedule provides a visual representation of the steps involved in dressing, helping individuals understand what to expect and follow along.

Offer Choices

Pre-teaching and offering choices can make the dressing experience more manageable. Giving individuals the opportunity to choose between different clothing options can empower them and provide a sense of control. For example, you can hold up two tops for them to choose from or allow them to pick their outfit from their closet independently.

Emphasize Choice and Control

The emphasis should be on providing a sense of choice and control over what they wear, rather than strict matching. This approach can reduce resistance and make the process more enjoyable for the individual. It is totally fine if the outfit is crazy and doesn’t “go together.” Clothes are clothes! As long as they are happy in it, it’s a win.

Share Social Stories for Explanation

Employing social stories can help explain the necessity of wearing clothes, especially when leaving the house. Social stories are short narratives that can address any challenges the individual may have with the concept of clothing and reinforce the idea that it's acceptable to remove clothes when at home. These should be read everyday over a longer term to help them sink it.

Look Into Online Resources and Support

Numerous online resources, as well as support from teachers and occupational therapists, are available to provide visuals and materials to aid in this process. These resources can include visual schedules, social stories, and guidance on making clothing choices.

Create a Structured and Empowering Approach

By incorporating these strategies, you can create a more structured and empowering approach to dressing routines. This not only helps individuals with the process but also promotes their independence and self-esteem.

Autistic boy playing in sensory friendly joggers and compression tee

Navigating Sensory Sensitivities for a Better Life

As we learn about autism and sensory sensitivities, we see how these things really impact daily life for individuals. From how they react to everyday things to the challenges in choosing clothes, we uncover the many ways sensory sensitivities play a role. By using helpful tools like visual schedules and choosing clothes that feel good, we aim to make life better for those with autism. Through understanding and support, we can create environments that consider and help with the different ways individuals experience the world.

Sensory-Friendly Clothing For Autism 

Creating sensory-friendly clothing for neurodivergent kids is what Sense-ational You is all about. Check out our selection of sensory-friendly clothing today! 

Link to share

Use this link to share this article