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Beyond scratchy tags: Managing kid’s sensory processing differences

Nancy Peske Co-author of the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child

Kids and teens with clothing sensitivities due to autism and/or sensory processing differences often struggle to tolerate different types of appropriate clothing. Tips for helping them include providing more comfortable clothing and undergarments and desensitizing their skin. Here is some advice to help your child with sensory processing differences.


Do provide extra soft clothing

Kids with sensory issues often need much softer clothing, such as underwear, shirts, pants, and socks made of soft cotton and washed often so as to remove any stiffness. Avoid seams, appliques, and scratchy tags inside the clothing (remove them if you can). Fleece and polyester that doesn’t pill over time and create friction against the skin might also be a good choice for your child.

Do try extra loose or extra tight clothing

Sensory kids may need tight undergarments, such as bicycle shorts, or extra loose clothing, such as boxer shorts. How clothing feels against their skin matters a lot, so try to accommodate what feels good for them, even if it means using a different type of underwear.

Do desensitize the skin

Giving your child a gentle massage, perhaps with lotion, or using a handheld vibrator against his skin if he enjoys that sensation before donning clothes can often help a child with sensory issues better tolerate the sensation of clothing. Encourage your child to play with sand, on grass, or with toys placed in a bin of dried rice used as an indoor sandbox or “sensory bin” to make getting used to new sensations against the skin fun.

Do make the clothing attractive to your child’s senses

Children with tactile sensitivity may be more willing to try on a new article clothing if it is in their favorite color or has a pleasant and familiar smell (for instance, if you spray it with lavender essential oil and your child knows and loves that smell). The comfort of familiar color and scent may be enough to get her past her anxiety about a new sensation against her skin. If she does try on the new shirt or pants, praise her for daring to try something new.


Do not underestimate how intense your child’s tactile sensitivities are

Kids with sensory processing differences have brains that are wired a little differently from the brains of kids who have typical sensory processing. That scratchy tag or seam in the socks might actually be processed by her brain as a sign of danger, setting off a “fight or flight” panic response.

Do not force your child to wear clothing she can’t tolerate without anxiety, tantrums, or severe distress

While you want your child to wear a wider variety of clothing, you also don’t want her to develop anxiety around clothing. Try different options, such as sandals instead of shoes, seamless socks, and sweatpants or lined wind pants instead of jeans or pants with many seams.

Do not forget to look online for other options

Today, there are retailers that sell ultra soft, seamless clothing designed for kids and teens with tactile sensitivities. You might be surprised by how many options you have! Look online and for local stores that offer clothing designed for your child. 

Do not give up

Keep reintroducing clothing by simply putting it on your child’s bed or in her dresser or closet so it becomes more familiar to her. One mom found that her son was finally willing to put on a new shirt in his favorite color simply because she’d laid it out on a chair in his room and left it there for several days.

Do not focus on the negative when you can focus on the positive

Positive reinforcement when your child tries on a new article of clothing, or gets dressed without fussing, will encourage him to push himself to wear a wider variety of clothing.

Jumping cartoon

While some kids outgrow many of their tactile sensitivities, or find they’re less sensitive once nutritional issues they may be having are addressed, you have many options for getting your sensory child dressed in appropriate clothing. Tap into your creativity, keep a positive attitude, and commit to learning more about how to help your child with sensory processing issues.

More expert advice about Kids with Special Needs

Photo Credits: Cute little girls of 5 years old wearing knitted trendy winter clothes posing over white brick wall by alenkasm via BigStock; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Nancy PeskeCo-author of the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child

Nancy Peske is the coauthor of the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues. You can learn more about Nancy and her work helping kids with sensory issues at w...

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