Our Sensory Story

Is it SPD? Clothing Problems

In this section, it is my hope to help parents who are in the beginning stages of identifying Sensory Processing Disorder in their child. 

When we started seeing behavior in our child that didn’t make sense with our friends’ kids, we were at a loss.  We didn’t have a word to identify what we were seeing.  We didn’t know anyone who was also experiencing the same things.  Because we didn’t have the words and no explanation, we had negative people in our lives who chose to see it as a “discipline issue”, that we must not be parenting our children appropriately. 

If this fits your experience right now, read on! 

I am here to tell you, that you are your child’s best advocate.  If you feel in your heart that something about your child’s behavior is different and is worrying you, pursue it.  See a pediatrician, a child psychologist, an occupational therapist or a behavior coach.  They will help you identify “typically-developing” child behavior from “a-typical” behavior, worth pursuing.  Sometimes as parents we all feel a little inadequate for the road ahead, but if you’re the parent to a special needs child, you require a special dose of strength and help to get through it. 

This morning, I’m talking about clothing.

One of the first indicators that we had a problem was in the simple act of getting dressed in the morning.  I remember being completely baffled by my 3 year old.  Like every other parents morning routine, we were supposed to get dressed in the morning.  Over the course of the weeks and months prior, we were in a continual battle over clothing.  It seemed to be getting progressively worse and I really thought that I was dealing with the typical 3 year old “testing” behavior.  Like most parents, I was determined to nip-it-in-the-bud and win the battle before it was a war.  With my mind set, I was GOING to get this child dressed every morning, like everybody else!

The screaming started.  “No problem, I’m the adult”, I thought.  She threw them off, clothes rejected, balled up and thrown at the walls.  1 hour turns into 2 hours.  The screaming getting higher-pitched, more panicked.  I step away and watch from the doorway.  Clothes drawers picked up, thrown at the walls.  Toys picked up, thrown at the walls.  Fists beating the walls, fingernails digging into drywall.   Before I know it, she is in a full-blown panic-attack over this.  Simple fight or flight and she was going to fight for her life.  3 hours had passed and she still wasn’t dressed, screaming as though in pain.

I had never experienced anything like it.  I had no words.  I couldn’t explain to my husband what was happening morning after miserable morning.  He was at work and there was no one coming to help us.  We were alone.  It was either figure this out, or lay down and cry.

If your stomach is turning, then you know how I felt.  My heart was breaking for her.  I couldn’t even get near her because she was in a total meltdown, kicking and thrashing.  I’m her Mom and I can’t get her dressed.  My child is panicking about getting dressed.  What was going on?

She still wasn’t talking much at this point.  We were desperate to communicate with her what she was feeling.  In a final act of desperation, she screamed…”MY CLOTHES HURT ME!!!”

I pulled her close and held her butt-naked little body next to mine.  We rocked and rocked until she’d calmed down.

I knew something was terribly wrong.  This was NOT a tantrum.  This was pure survival.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that SPD kids have trouble with clothing.  The seams on clothing, buttons, zippers, even socks can be incredibly painful.  If you and I get kinda irritated when our socks don’t sit right, then SPD kids can experience actual PAIN from it.  They cannot cope, they cannot think – they just react, as though they’re being hurt.  It’s incredibly difficult to watch, let alone to deal with.   When my daughter was older, she was able to better express what she was experiencing.  I was shocked to realize just how difficult getting dressed was for her.

We now look for clothing with very few or no seams at all.  There are retailers now who sell “seamless” articles of clothing – GOD BLESS ‘EM!!!  I do my best to avoid all zippers, buttons or additional lines of seams that are there just “for show”.  Generally-speaking, she doesn’t wear socks at all.   Getting running shoes on is difficult and the laces have to be just-so.

We also let a lot of things go in the clothing department.  Sometimes, she’s just not comfortable wearing clothing that is appropriate for the weather.  In winter, she’s still wearing sundresses, shorts or t-shirts because that’s what she’s coping to wear today.  As a Mom, I pick my battles.  If we’re inside, who cares??  If we go outside, that’s a battle I know I have to win – she has to be appropriately dressed to be safe and warm, particularly in winter.

As a frugal Mom, I know we have to be careful about how much we spend on clothing, just like a lot of other families.  I can’t always afford to give my daughter everything she likes.  My best advice is to let family or friends know that you’d like their hand-me-downs.  For us, this has been a huge blessing.  I know that my daughter can’t deal with an awful lot of clothing styles.  When you have hand-me-downs, it’s not really a big issue if your child rejects a few styles of clothing that you get.  The cost isn’t there so it’s not a big deal.  But it would be if you had to spend the money and find out after that she can’t wear it.

If your child is experiencing similar behavior, please take my advice and see your pediatrician.  Even if you don’t get a diagnosis today, it will be recorded that you had a concern and it will add to the overall history on your child’s medical chart.  This will be important in future for diagnosing.

Please also take this with you – if you are a parent, worried about your child’s behavior or symptoms, you are not alone today.  There is help and support for SPD families.  It DOES get better!:)




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