Adaptive Clothing That Helps Kids Fit In
Local businesses that offer sensory friendly and adaptive clothing for kids have been joined by major retailers recently. Target just expanded its Halloween collection.
Every new school year, the hype for fresh back-to-school outfits has families clearing the racks. But parents of a child with a disability or sensitivity have other things to consider besides the latest trend.
They must take into account the comfort of the material or the ease of getting it on. Something simple, like a tag on a shirt, can trigger a reaction from a child with sensory processing issues. Some adaptive clothing, such as a weighted hat or vest, and compression T-shirt, can provide a sense of security to a child with anxiety or OCD. For children with physical disabilities that make buttons and zippers difficult to manage, clothing with magnetic closures or Velcro allow them to dress themselves easier and faster.
“Children are empowered to learn and grow when you give them reasonable choices. If the fabric is scratchy, the seams rub, or the design doesn’t express who you are, then getting dressed is the worst way to start your day,” says Daniela Weiss, marketing director at Fun and Function, in Merion Station, PA.
What is a sensory sensitivity?
For some parents, a child’s response to his clothing might be the first signal that he has a sensory disorder. Does he hate wearing long sleeves and pants, even if it’s cold out? Does he complain about itchy clothes and tight shoes? The smallest thing, like a seam, can be uncomfortable to a child with a sensory processing issue. It is more than a discomfort. A child focused on how uncomfortable his clothing is can find it hard to focus on academics in the classroom.
If these issues aren’t addressed, the child can develop a tactile dysfunction that compels them to touch everything, have a high pain tolerance or have difficulty with fine motor tasks.
Touch is not the only sensation that affects a child with sensory processing disorder.
“Sometimes the sensory processing difficulties are much more than the touch processing,” says Susan Donohoe, owner of Kozie Clothes in Pottstown, PA. “People with sensory processing disorder misinterpret everyday sensory information, such as sound and movement.
“They may feel bombarded by information, crave intense sensory experiences or be unaware of sensations that others feel.”
For children with autism, clothes that apply pressure calm the nervous system during sensory overload.
“Weighted or snug-fitting clothing can help a child that has trouble interpreting his position in space. The weight or the snug fit provides the needed additional input for the child to feel grounded or secure,” says Donna Clee, an occupational therapy assistant at Jefferson Sub-Acute Rehab in Sewell, NJ.
Clothes make the kid
Kids like to dress the way they want and fit in with their peers. They value this freedom of expression because it’s a piece of their identity.
Adaptive clothing with cool graphics and patterns gives children a sense of belonging and boosts their confidence. Certain design features, like a lack of tags or rough material, and the addition of magnets or Velcro, can make clothing easier to wear without looking different. Other products, such as seamless underwear and socks, are even more subtle.
“Teaching dressing to a child is a challenge and teaching dressing to a child with sensitivities without access to adaptive clothing is exclusion. Kids just want to be kids,” says Clee.
Big retailers get on board
Department stores like Target and Kohl’s have started to carry their own adaptive clothing. Target’s Cat & Jack adaptive apparel line launched in 2017 with tagless clothing and Tommy Hilfiger has added Velcro and magnetic closures to some of its line. Kohl’s three children’s lines offer clothing suitable for those in wheelchairs with adaptations that include wide pant legs, elastic waistbands and reinforced belt loops. Zappos has introduced clothing that includes easy on/off shoes and Land's End's inclusive clothing includes magnets and Velcro instead of buttons
Smaller companies have been in this niche longer. Aviva Weiss founded Fun and Function in 2007. Its clothing ranges from weighted vests to tagless tees made for children, teens, and adults with sensory impairments. “The purpose is to help children develop and participate in daily life, and it needs to be appealing, kid-friendly and affordable,” she says.
Kozie Clothes offers pieces for a variety of disabilities, such as body suits that can accommodate a feeding tube. Its temperature-controlled shirts react when a child sweats and quickens its absorption so he doesn’t feel sticky and overheated.
Adaptive clothing has expanded to the point where it doesn’t include just everyday wear. Halloween costumes, swimsuits and formal attire are also available. Target has released a line of costumes and wheelchair covers for kids with disabilities so they can easily dress up.
Rose Destra is a MetroKids intern from Temple University.