Getting dressed can be a battleground when your child has special needs. But the good news is that retailers are waking up to this, with growing numbers of innovative options.
For those with sensory difficulties, it may be itchy fabric, annoying seams, irritating tags and socks that drive children wild (and eventually barefoot). For those with dyspraxia or physical disabilities, the buttons, zips, laces and fiddly hooks can make them frustrated and angry when they can’t dress themselves like other children of their age.
Thankfully, stalwarts of the kids’ catwalk like Marks and Spencer and Clarks understand this, and the market opportunity it presents them with, and they have started producing lines with special needs in mind.
SmartKnitKIDS in the US makes seamless sensitivity products. You can buy its range in the UK at Sensory Smart. They are seam-free and elastic-free with comfortable non-binding waists and legs. Plus they are made from a blend of Coolmax and Lycra making them super-stretchy, hugging the body. The good news is that Coolmax doesn’t use chemicals; it’s the structure of the yarn that does the work by drawing moisture away from the body and regulating temperature.
For washable continence pants, take a look at Rackety’s. Their soft cotton pants have built-in washable pads and waterproof backing. No need for disposables, just wash and re-use.
Marks and Spencer has a range of soft cotton larger-size popper vests and onesies in sizes up to 16 years. This Adaptive Range keeps nappies securely in place and away from wandering hands. The flat seams are chafe-resistant making them comfortable for all ages.
Special Kids Company has tag-free onesies and vest suits with neckline, armholes and legs all bound in a soft stretchy rib. Sizes available up to 16 years.
Sensory Smart sells SmartKnitKIDS socks made with a non-binding top that won’t slip down. They are seam-free (no lumps or bumps), and hug the foot to stop wrinkling or bunching up. The no heel design makes them easier to put on and the antimicrobial fabric keeps feet sweat and stink-free.
Another option is Ez Sox made by the Special Kids Company. These are fun learning socks made with seamless toes and non-skid grippers. They have pull up loops to help kids put them on and come in colourful animal and car designs or stripes and polka dots. Available to fit up to 9 years old.
Or for children who struggle to get their socks on, buy regular socks but in the larger size which will allow more give. Using fabric conditioner when you wash them makes them stretchier.
T-shirts and undergarments
Set up by parents of Jett who was diagnosed with autism, global development delay and sensory processing disorder at three years old, JettProof undergarments are made from Calmtex, a light-weight, breathable, sensory fabric designed specifically for sensory care. They can be worn comfortably all year round allowing kids to wear their favourite clothes or school uniform on top.
Also styled by been-there parents, Tubie Kids' range of T-shirts and bodysuits allows discreet access for gastro tube feeds and medical lines, with a double layered T-shirt providing an opening covered by a T-shirt flap.
Sensory Direct offers sensory ‘hug’ t-shirts and compression shirts that can have a reassuring and calming effect. These discreet t-shirts (without itchy labels) can be worn under clothes and are made from high quality cotton with stretchy lycra. All made with flat seams and extra long in the body to stop any riding up.
An easy-dressing range at Marks and Spencer has been developed in collaboration with the National Autistic Society. Buttons have been replaced with hidden panels of soft Velcro and pull-up trousers are available up to 16 years old. The usual trouser back pocket has been removed and tags have been moved to the inside of the pocket. Not particularly soft but hard wearing and practical according to parents. Plus 10 per cent of every sale goes to the National Autistic Society.
Special Kids Company does school uniforms up to 16 years, including super-soft polo shirt bodysuits, also available with G-tube access.
And Spectra Sensory Clothing has recently developed its own range of soft, elastic waist school trousers as well as shirts with softer collars that can still be worn with a tie. All labels are in the pockets and all inside seams are sewed down.
Pretty, frilly halterneck or side tying swimsuits with waterproof nappies or discreet waterproof liners are available for girls from Seen In. For boys there are swim shorts which can unbutton at the sides or trunks, with the same protection.
When children struggle to get them up and down and to do up fastenings, jogging bottoms are useful. For something smarter, many high street shops do trousers with internal button elastic waist adjustments. Buy a size too big, cinch in the waist with the button elastic, and you have created an elasticated waist. Or buy some button fly trousers and a strip of Velcro, then cut off the buttons and sew in Velcro strips.
For clever replacements for shoelaces, which turn lace ups into slip ons, try Hickies, or Greepers which even has a Thomas the Tank Engine version, or Coilers which has versions for smart shoes and trainers.
And for a child that prefers to be barefoot, check out Vivo Barefoot. They make ultra lightweight, flexible shoes with ‘barely there’ protective soles that give feet maximum sensory feedback.
Marks and Spencer comes up trumps again with coats and gilets with a rip tape opening down the back to get them on and off wheelchair users in seconds.
Gloves and mittens
Fleecy mittens which open at the side to make them easy to get on, and have a stay put strap to keep them on are available from Seen In
Supercool designs including The Avengers, Star Wars, surfing monkeys, butterflies, Hello Kitty, Converse boots or cute dogs are available from Hipper Bib. Made by hand in Oklahoma they are shipped worldwide. The triangle shaped, triple layer, reversible bib is designed ‘to capture drool and still look cool'. Alternatively, buy some tennis wristbands – children love using these to wipe their mouths.
Style your own
If you're lucky enough to live within 25 miles of Swindon, Dressability will alter all types of clothing to make openings wider or fastenings easier, with a collect and return service.