Are you struggling to get your child with sensory issues to don all that wonderful, late fall and winter clothing that will keep him or her warm when he plays outside?
Here are some tips:
Make winter clothing items more tolerable through desensitization and careful attention to textures and tightness. Many people prefer one type of scarf material to another, or prefer gloves to mittens or vice versa. With children who have sensory processing differences, these preferences can be very intense. They may actually be deeply distressed by the feel of certain clothing. Yet you don’t want them to get frost nip or, worse, frost bite because they’re under-dressed for cold weather. What’s more, playing with snow will make any non-waterproof clothing wet and cold. Fortunately, there are many options available.
Tight or Loose?
Sometimes, sensory kids can better tolerate clothes if they’re tight or, at least, if tight clothing is worn underneath looser clothing. Consider offering tight long johns, glove liners or tight and fingerless nylon “arthritis gloves,” and spandex caps or face masks (often available in bike shops or sporting goods stores) that give comforting input. These can be worn alone or underneath items such as acrylic hats and nylon snow pants.
Won’t Wear Mittens?
Hand warmer packets kept in the pockets can help keep hands from getting frost nip, at least when they’re in the child’s pockets! You might also massage the child’s head and hands before she puts on a hat or mittens. Light vibration from a hand-held vibrator or even a vibrating toy or toothbrush may work to desensitize her skin as well, allowing her to handle the sensation of clothing against these parts of the body.
Your child may have dry skin that is exacerbating his discomfort. If he will tolerate lotion or oil that will lock in moisture, use it liberally, especially after a bath or shower when the skin is still warm and moist, as it is most effective at these times. You might consider making baths and showers less frequent to prevent dry skin, and think about adding an essential oil to the bath (but do not use lavender or tea tree oil with boys, however, as some research has indicated these oils act as hormone disrupters in boys).
Keep Cheap Accessories on Hand
It’s a good idea to stock up on cheap hats, gloves, mittens, snow pants, and boots during the summer at second-hand stores and look for ones that are not scratchy (for instance, fleece rather than acrylic or wool), have minimal elastic (such as at the wrists), and which you know your sensory child can tolerate. If he is uncomfortable in a clothing item, ask him if he can express exactly what is bothering him. When you can, have extra dry clothing on hand in case he does get an article wet or loses it.
Keep in mind, too, that fleece repels water fairly well, so if he cannot tolerate nylon you might have him wear fleece.
Finally, do remind your child to drink water during outdoor activities to stay hydrated, which will also help prevent dry skin.
Stay warm and enjoy the winter!