Dressing involves many sensory challenges for children who have sensitive (over responsive) touch systems. Tags, seams and clothing textures can be irritating and even perceived as painful to children whose touch system is over responsive. Sensory challenges also exist for children who have difficulties with motor planning and/or postural difficulties. Children who have under-responsive tactile systems often don’t notice when their clothes are twisted or their shoes are on the wrong feet because they just don’t ‘feel’ it. Dressing tasks involve complex motor planning to complete together with attention to the task. Children generally learn to undress before they learn to dress themselves independently.

Ideas to support Dressing

  • Place clothing out ahead of time
  • Engage in movement and heavy work activities prior to dressing.
  • Break down the activity into steps with clear verbal or visual instructions. 
  • Give the child time to practice and learn each step – repetition is essential for mastering skills.
  • Backward or forward chaining can be helpful. That is the child completes the last or the first step in the activity and once mastered, gradually increases the steps they are doing.
  • Talk about each step and encourage your child to talk you through each step as they are doing it.
  • Sing the steps to dressing and undressing in a predictable order.
  • Identify a clear marker for the back and front of clothing e.g. draw an X on the back.
  • Try socks with a coloured toe and heal to help children orient socks correctly.
  • Sit down with feet on the floor or sit on the floor to complete dressing tasks.
  • Try firm, maintained touch pressure over the whole body or a massage prior to dressing.
  • Involve your child in shopping for clothes so they can choose clothes based on their ‘sensory preferences’.
  • Respect clothing preferences. Bold, strong coloured clothing patterns may make your over-responsive child feel nauseous or dizzy.
  • Allow your child to choose sleeve and trouser length.
  • Pre- wash clothing prior to wearing if your child is sensitive to fabric textures.
  • Remove tags completely or buy tagless clothing.
  • Try lycra or calming bike shorts or vests under clothing. E.g. Jett proof or Calming clothing.
  • Wear socks inside out if your child is sensitive to the seams. Seamless socks and other clothing are available.
  • Try bumpy or gel insoles or shoe stickers to help put shoes on the correct feet.
  • Reduce visual distractions or get dressed in a small space to minimise distractions during the task.
  • Use unscented washing detergents if your child is sensitive to smells.
  • Allow your child to chew or suck on something safe during dressing tasks.