Because children with sensory processing disorders often resist donning proper winter attire despite below freezing temperatures, occupational therapy professor Varleisha Gibbs, OTD, OTR/L, at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, compiled tips to help parents combat these obstacles and keep their children safe and warm in the frigid weather.
“With children who have sensory processing differences, preferences to certain materials and fabrics can be very intense,” said Dr. Gibbs. “We don’t want children to get frost bite because they are underdressed for cold weather as they wait for the bus stop or play outdoors. That’s why it is important for parents to have their children try on and pick out their cold gear so they can find items that fit their sensory needs.”
Here’s a list of practical tips Dr. Gibbs said can help children adapt to cold weather gear:
1) Seek child’s opinion. If a child is old enough and able to communicate his or her discomforts with particular clothing, find out what causes irritation. If possible, also allow a child to pick out their own clothing.
2) Try different materials/fabrics. Stock up on hats, gloves, and mittens made with fabrics that are less likely to irritate a child’s skin. For instance, opt for fleece rather than acrylic or wool items.
3) Opt for tight clothing. Sensory kids can generally prefer tight clothing that can be worn alone or underneath looser clothing because it provides pressure and insulation. Consider tight long johns, nylon undershirts, glove liners as they can be worn alone or underneath items such as fleece hats and water-resistant pants.
4) Hand warmers are better than nothing. If a child refuses to wear gloves or mittens, keep hand warmer packets in the pockets of his or her jacket.
5) Desensitize skin before getting dressed. Rub a heavy towel over the child’s skin or give the child a massage to help stimulate his or her skin prior to getting dressed.
6) Tagless clothing is key. Try to purchase clothing without tags, or cut off the labels and tags on items prior to having a child wear them as the paper and plastic can irritate a child’s skin.
“Small things like uncomfortable mittens, hats, and boots can cause a child with a sensory processing disorder to melt into tantrums; but these types of situations can be avoided with a little preparation and input from the child,” said Dr. Gibbs, who earned her BA in psychology from University of Delaware, MS in occupational therapy from Columbia University in the City of New York, and OTD from Thomas Jefferson University.
Dr. Gibbs has written and spoken extensively on sensory processing disorders, and also co-authored Raising Kids with Sensory Processing Disorders: A Week-by-Week Guide to Solving Everyday Sensory Issues. For assistance in making arrangements to interview Dr. Gibbs, contact Lauren Whetzel (firstname.lastname@example.org, 215.596.8864) or Brian Kirschner (email@example.com, 215.895.1186).
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