Do your kids hate pants? Do they strip them off as soon as they walk in the door?  That isn’t uncommon for kids with sensory integration issues. 

When my son was very small, the words I said most to him were “Where are your pants?” As he took them off the minute he got in the door from any outing.  Eventually, he stopped doing this, but was very picky about clothes, as many sensory kids are.

Recently, my son shared with me why he struggled for years with wearing pants and suggested I share his insight with all of you. 

The Sensory Challenges of Clothesblue jeans on an orange background

For most of us, once we put on clothes, our brains put the feeling of clothes against our skin in the background. Unless something is very scratchy or way too tight, we generally ignore how our clothes feel on our bodies all day.

However, if you have sensory integration disorder, your brain isn’t so good at ignoring sensations. More than that, the gentle touch of fabric brushing against your skin can feel irritating, even painful.  This means that loose pant legs brushing against your calves while you walk can feel like being swarmed by insects with every step. 

Finding Solutions

For some sensory kids, wearing shorts year-round is a solution. No pant legs means the fabric doesn’t brush up against your lower legs.  Another strategy is to prevent the fabric from moving at all. My son became a fan of sweat pants with elastic bands at the bottom. The elastic bands held the pants in place so they didn’t swish against his legs and ankles. 

Wearing leggings helps with this too. Wearing leggings under regular pants can be a great way to avoid this irritating sensation if shorts or sweatpants aren’t a good option for some reason. I’m thinking of music recitals and things where my kids have had to dress up a bit. They need to look like they are wearing slacks…but you can totally hide leggings under slacks. 

It is important to realize that this isn’t just a child being picky. When your brain can’t ignore your clothes, it is important to make the clothes as comfortable as possible. For people with sensory integration disorder, gentle touch can be painful, and deep pressure that other people find painful can feel good. 

Pants Aren’t The Only Culprits

These challenges can of course apply to shirts, dresses, and other clothing. If your sensory child hates dresses, it may have more to do with the sensation of the dress brushing against their legs. Not a style choice. 

child in a dress next to a closetSleeves and collars can cause the same issues as pants. Since we move our arms even more than our legs, the sensory challenges are increased. This is why sensory kids often choose short sleeves and dislike both long sleeves and jackets. They also may prefer clothes that look too small for them, as those now fit tightly and don’t brush against them. 

What can you do with this information? 

If your child is struggling with wearing clothes, consider all the ways you can make them more comfortable for your child. This may mean a choice you don’t initially see. Fit, elastic, and fabric textures all play into how clothes feel on the body.  Realizing that your sensory kid has needs that you don’t, is important to finding the clothes that work for them.

About the Author

Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.

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