Clothing tips for autistic and dyspraxic people with tactile overresponsivity

With all of the many challenges non neurodivergent people, such as those with autism, dyspraxia or Asperger’s must face, one of the least mentioned is finding clothing that suits their needs and indeed shopping for new clothing.

Many neurodivergent people have to confront a degree of tactile overresponsivity meaning that when it comes to clothes, only certain fabrics, textures and weights will do. This can pose great problems, so when a neurodivergent person finds a particular style, design or brand that suits them they often stick with it for the long term. There are, however, certain things that can be done to help people with tactile oversensitivity overcome the fear of shopping for new clothes and indeed to reduce the impact of this sensitivity in general.

A little about tactile overresponsivity

Tactile overresponsivity, also known as tactile defensiveness or hypersensitivity means that individuals will avoid touching or be agitated by touching many things, but in the context of this article those of relevance include:

  • textured materials
  • certain clothing textures
  • seams on socks
  • shirt or other clothing tags
  • certain types of shoes
  • clothes that lightly brush the skin

Ideally, when identified at an early age, occupational therapy can help those who experience such sensations, often leading to fight or flight responses, to gradually overcome it by the slow but steady introduction of new tactile experiences in a safe environment. Assuming this has not been successful or possible there are a number of measures that can be taken to help those with tactile overresponsivity to shop for new clothes and adapt their wardrobe to their needs.

Seamless socks

A cursory search online will unveil a whole range of seamless socks which immediately help to tick off one of the commonest complaints. By dealing with the issues on a case by case basis, ticking them off one by one, there will be a feeling of accomplishment as hurdles are overcome and there is less chance of despondency setting in.

The lesson of weighted blankets and its application in clothing

Weighted blankets are just as they sound – blankets with weights inside. They usually consist of a few square pockets filled with weights like glass beads, or even rice. The squares are evenly distributed, quilt-like and the weight is thus felt evenly over the body. Many neurodivergent people don’t like light touch – be it hugs, blankets or clothing and he weighted blanket idea is borrowed from the concept of Deep Touch Pressure, a therapy technique that calms the nervous system.

This has begun to be applied in clothing through weighted pressure vests – the idea being that wearers will get the same benefit as from weighted blankets in their upper torso during the day. Such vests have been shown to lessen the effect of other fabrics on those with tactile overresponsivity. It is recommended to wear such a vest when trying on new clothing – especially shirts and jackets.

Is there a general rule when it comes to fabrics?

The short answer is no, as everyone is unique in what triggers their hypersensitivity, but neurodivergent people often have the biggest problem with fabrics that are stiff, have little give and are too tight. So stretchy, cotton-rich fabrics that are not too restrictive are often preferable. In terms of advice for those working in the clothing industry, providing a patient and comfortable environment for neurodivergent people is incredibly helpful and can lead to a lot of repeat custom.

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