Clothing Rituals: Moving from Season to Season

Does your child have difficulty with change of clothing between seasons e.g. moving from shoes to boots, long sleeves to short, coat to just a tee shirt?  This can be a common characteristic in children with Autism and those with sensory processing difficulties. It can be the result of tactile sensitivity; the child is particular about the clothes he wears, finds tags and seams itchy or irritating, may not like having his sleeves pushed up, and likes only loose or tight clothing, socks and shoes or bare feet. Some children have difficulty tolerating touch to their skin and find that they can only tolerate certain clothing. It may also be the result of an intolerance to change in routine, transitions, or type of clothing. Some children are rigid and ritualistic because their world is confusing and overwhelming. The rituals and routines are their attempts to control their world in order to cope with it.

Regardless of the reason for this difficulty, children need to know in advance when things will change. Here are some strategies to help them cope:

  • Prepare children for change by using social scripts and visual schedules
  • Play dress up with different types of clothing
  • Bring out the clothes for the upcoming season and talk about them
  • Incorporate clothing items like mittens and hats during circle or story time
  • Make up little songs about wearing hats, mittens and boots and have each child try them on
  • Use visuals to show clothing to be used in different types of weather using dress up bear or doll.

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If the dressing routine becomes too stressful at home, ask the Early Learning and Care Program to support the family in introducing the new clothing. It is often easier for a child to accept the change when it comes from someone other than his or her parents. Sometimes it only takes a few minutes for a child to accept new clothing; for others it may take a few days of wearing clothing for gradually longer periods of time.  For children who are rigid in their routines, putting on the new clothing and immediately going out to play or for a walk without any focus being given to the event may be all that is needed.

Lastly, try to remain calm when dealing with these changes. Children pick up on your tension and it usually triggers a battle.

Jane Boni,
Occupational Therapist