By CELA on 24 May, 2021

Imagine sitting in a circle with your preschool friends who are listening intently as an educator reads We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. They’re enjoying the story but all you can focus on is the itching sensation around your neck caused by your thick winter pullover. You just don’t have the words yet to tell your educators how much it bothers you, and you don’t know how to remove it. All you can think to do is cry and scratch, and it’s making you feel miserable and frustrated. This is the experience of a child with clothing sensitivities.

We speak with Paediatric Occupational Therapist Laura Petix about how to support children experiencing sensory clothing issues.

For children with sensory clothing issues, sensations that may be unnoticeable to us are unbearable to them. The tag on a t-shirt, the seam on a pair of shorts, or even the fuzziness of socks can impede a child’s ability to function in important activities. For educators and parents, this can create hygiene or safety challenges and risk obstructing a child’s opportunity to play or learn.

If a child has issues with clothing, do they have a sensory processing disorder (SPD)?

Throughout our busy days, our brains are constantly receiving information about our environment through our senses. The coffee we smell, the traffic we hear, and the clothing we touch all send signals to our brain which then registers the information and decides if a response is necessary and how to react. 

The concept of sensory processing difficulties was introduced by Dr. A Jean Ayres in the 1970s, after identifying that some brains were unable to regulate all of this incoming information in the same way that many of us take for granted. 

Whilst many of us have unique sensations we may not like, such as the sound of nails on a chalkboard or the feeling of a cotton ball, an SPD can hinder the daily activities and interests of a person. When a child’s sensory clothing issues negatively impact their social interactions or education opportunities, it may be indicative of a Sensory processing disorder.

A child who has a clothing sensitivity is considered to have a low threshold for tactile input, meaning they register tactile input at a higher rate than neurotypical people,” explains Paediatric Occupational Therapist  Laura Petix.

SPD Australia states that SPD affects the functional skills of 1 in 20 children. A common misconception around SPD is that it is just another name for ADHD or a form of autism spectrum disorder. Whilst there may be many overlapping symptoms, this is incorrect. SPD, and clothing sensitivities in particular, can impact any person at any age regardless of whether they also have these disorders.

What are some signals indicating a sensory clothing issue?

According to Petix, children with sensory clothing issues can sense every seam, wrinkle or fuzz ball in a sock. They are extremely irritated by tags. They may not be able to tolerate clothes that fit them and rather prefer clothes that are too tight or too big. In extreme cases, some children cannot tolerate wearing underwear at all or socks or shoes. She identifies some signals educators can be aware of that may indicate clothing sensitivity issues. It is important to note that these signs do not definitively determine an SPD and each child’s situation should be considered individually.

Clothing Challenges in Sensory Sensitive Children via Instagram @theotbutterfly

Some signals in children could include:

  • Being particularly fidgety or unfocused and continually playing with or adjusting clothing.
  • Refusing to play dress up games when given the opportunity.
  • Regularly wearing a “uniform” of the same clothing and exhibiting agitated behaviour if they deviate from this clothing. 
  • Wearing clothing that is not appropriate for the weather or is the wrong size.

How can we best support a child experiencing sensory clothing issues?

As sensory issues can lead to educational, social and emotional challenges for children, it is crucial to understand the effects of sensory issues. Their behaviourisms are at risk of being negatively misinterpreted, including labels such as disruptive, impulsive, immature, or belligerent.

Here are some helpful tips for parents and educators supporting a child with clothing sensitivities:

  1. Find clothing without tags in or remove the tags.
  2. Use clothing with super soft fabrics or natural materials—synthetic blends can be uncomfortable to sensitive children.
  3. Allow plenty of time for the child to get dressed so they can become familiar with the sensation of each fabric on their skin.
  4. Try to purchase multiple items of the clothing that the child finds comfortable.
  5. Have heavy clothing or blankets available for children who find comfort in a “cocoon” feeling.
  6. Avoid clothes with difficult fasteners—velcro and drawstrings will keep children from getting frustrated and worked up overt tricky tasks like buttons and tying.
  7. In sensory sensitive children, dirty or wet clothing can trigger dysregulation, so always have extra clothing on hand.


The best way to support a child with sensitive clothing challenges is to work with them and support them in their sensory needs rather than work against them," says Petix. "Allow them to feel comfortable, which will enable them to focus better on what they are doing.


Check out Laura Petix (The OT Butterfly) and other resources on sensory processing challenges below.

Further reading:

The OT Butterfly – Paediatric Occupational Therapist Laura Petix

Child Mind Institute – Sensory Processing Issues Explained

SPD Australia – Supporting and advocating for people with Sensory Processing Disorder

CELA professional development relating to this topic


About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.



Posted on 7 Jan, 2024
Our 5yr old daughter is sooo hard to get out the door. She refuses to wear shoes because they bug her so much. We have tried sandals, shoes, slippers...anything but no, she can't bare it. It is a fight to dress her for church especially because she needs shoes and something in her hair. It is driving us crazy!!! We have 4 other kids and so its chaotic enough trying to get out the door as it is. I feel so bad for her but what do we do? With her it's not only footwear and hair accessories but also clothing. Undies are either too big or too small. More than textures it seems to be needing to be the PERFECT balance of not baggy or loose but also not tight. The line is so fine!!! We feel like we have tried everything. Distractions, talking to her about it etc she doesn't even want hugs when she's so upset, she just hops in bed and puts covers over her head. Breaks my heart because the other day she was crying and saying sorry at the same time and then she said, I wish I wasn't the different one in the family!!! She has ADHD and so does my husband (her dad) and at least 2 of the other kids so she is not alone but they don't have the sensory issues. Please help us with tips, tricks or just ANYTHING!!!!!
Juan Sanchez
Posted on 14 Dec, 2023
My 10 years old son is diagnosed with the sensory processing disorder and he continuously want to increase the size of his clothes. My wife and I are having discussions regarding this topic. She keeps allowing bigger and bigger sizes, while I think we should draw a line and don't allow bigger sizes. At the moment he is wearing two times his proper size. When is enough about keep increasing the cloth sizes?
christina standfield
Posted on 20 Nov, 2022
My son is 4. we are struggling. everyday i try to dress him for the day and everyday he refuses to put clothes on. It doesnt matter what the material is. He's ok with T-shirts but underwear or shorts is a battle. putting on socks and shoes as well. I've given up on underwear. he just wears shorts. and my anxiety is out the roof every morning i wake up for fear of our meltdowns and the tears to come. We cant do playdates anymore because if he has to go to the bathroom and he pulls down his pants to pee he wont be able to pull them back up. and we'll be stuck in the bathroom until i walk him out of there naked and take him home. going to school, Grocery shopping , everything is a struggle. he wont go outside to play anymore, I cant take him to the pool. It's affecting his life and my mental health. What can i do to get clothes on him and keep them on. we eventually get clothes on everyday but it takes hours. hours of crying and hitting himself and then when we get the clothes on finally..... he'll freak out and take everything off again.
Posted on 20 Nov, 2022
Good someone is writing on this topic but sorry this article is such a cliffhanger. The suggestions made in the article are unhelpful as they are obvious and anyone with a child with this condition has tried all of this already. I took my child to the paediatrician who referred us to a special therapist. An occupational therapist. Apparently sensory disorder is very treatable! I was told stories by the school therapist of bad cases that were solved. So bottom line get a referral to a therapist who works with sensory issues. We start the therapy soon and based on the stories I’m quite hopeful as this issue is very frustrating and time consuming for the child AND the parent! So bottom line, talk to your paediatrician and ask for a referral to a therapist.
John Walsh
Posted on 10 Nov, 2022
My 5 year old granddaughter has most of the issues stated above tags wants the same clothes no tight clothing I have to stretch everything we feel so bad for her and help the best we can but she refuses to wear socks and we worry about her feet in the winter time now that she is in school we have tried many kinds can you help us with any suggestions so far nothing has worked. We bought her boots that are good for -30 and she just wears her bare feet in them thanks for above info
Julie Rogers
Posted on 17 Feb, 2022
My son has huge issues he has had since he was 2 that I can remember his socks have to be brand new and a certain type else he won’t wear them they have to be stretched tight no balls of fluff nothing no rages in his cloths he will not wear underwear at all I’ve had to talk to his teachers so he can get changed in the toilet for P.E as he stopped doing it because he wouldn’t wear underwear his trainers have to be a certain type Velcro ! He can tie lashes I just thought he was being lazy but it’s the thought of his foot coming in and out the shoe being disrupted otherwise if he wears lace ups we have to sit for a good hour putting them on and off tiring them so tight that his feet can’t breath but then he will take them off and cry with distress my boy is now 8 years of age and it’s not getting any better we’re always late for school outings is a huge battle as he will want to wear sliders in the snow I cut alk his tags out his cloths new cloths are a huge battle he only likes to wear certain clothing until it littarly has holes in I never need this was a thing sensitive clothing disorder I just thought he was playing up I don’t know how I’ve managed alk these years putting up with him bless him I do try my best but could really do with a little help about this my poor boy thankyou for reading my message I really hope I hear something back
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