Perhaps the battle is a familiar one. As soon as you pull the shirt over your daughter’s head, she yanks it off. Before you’ve adjusted the elastic on your son’s pants, he’s complaining that they’re too itchy. As the minutes tick by, you just wish it was acceptable to bring your child out of the house naked. Unfortunately, it’s not. And as anyone whose child struggles with sensory processing concerns or neurological differences can attest to, this can be a monumental frustration.
Tactile hypersensitivity and under-sensitivity happen because the nervous system isn’t interpreting touch sensations accurately. The result is a child who responds in “fight-or-flight” mode, withdraws, avoids or acts out in fear when faced with something that causes sensory overload.
Here are some quick tips that can help. While all of these hints won’t necessarily work with your child, they are parent-tested and (many) sensory-child approved.
Warm up the muscles first.
Warming up the muscles is a useful way to reduce sensitivity. This is best achieved through what occupational therapists call “heavy work.” These are activities that place deep pressure on the joints in the upper body, such as crashing into piled cushions, pulling other kids on a blanket, or shoveling sand into a bucket.
Choose the right undergarments.
More than one day has been ruined by bunched up socks or scratchy underwear. Avoid the feud by making sure that the undergarments are as comfortable as possible. Lucky & Me designs underwear that is ultra-soft, free of chemicals, and smooth to touch.
Buy used clothing.
One of the biggest benefits of buying used clothing is that you’ll be less irritated when your child decides he doesn’t like it anymore. More importantly, the numerous cycles through the washing machine that used clothing have experienced usually makes the fabric more tolerable to children.
As part of sensory integration therapy, children are sometimes covered with heavy blankets or wear weighted vests. If your child finds comfort in that cocoon-like feeling, try dressing her in layers. Place a t-shirt under a hoodie and offer a vest to top it off.
If your child’s skin is dry, it will be more sensitive to textures. This makes it challenging for kids to tolerate clothing that would otherwise be okay. Moisturize throughout the year with a fragrance-free lotion.
Develop a process for getting dressed.
The process of dressing can be important. Often, children appreciate putting clothes on — and taking clothes off — in the same order every time. If your child struggles with crossing the midline, try placing clothes on starting with the preferred side of her body.
Load up on the right vitamins.
Opt for vitamins and supplements that reduce sensitivity. Research shows that certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies can aggravate sensitivities. Many children with sensory process disorders self-limit their diet, making the need for supplements even more important.
While getting dressed may never be a fun activity for a child who is sensitive to sensory input, it can be less of a battle with these tips. Experiment with different possibilities that may help save your child’s patience and your sanity in the process.