Tight Fitting Clothing: A Sensory Mystery Unravelled

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Sensory Processing Disorder can create some pretty interesting choices and behaviours in children! Some of those choices can seem like they don’t make sense but when you have a better understanding of the “why” behind them, they begin to become more clear.

Tight Fitting Clothing: a sensory mystery unravelled (plus…what in the world is proprioception?!)Image Copyright: luislouro / 123RF Stock Photo

When our daughter Miss Optimism was younger, I used to get frustrated because I would get all the kids dressed and ready to go out and when I went to get them in the van, I would turn around and she had taken off her clothes and put on a bathing suit. It would be a cold winter day with two feet of snow on the ground and my little girl wanted to wear her bathing suit to the mall!

This happened day after day and my frustration grew. When I hid the bathing suits, she wore gymnastics suits! I had five kids under the age of 10 at the time and it was a lot of work to try to get anywhere on time, let alone when I had one child who was seemingly working against me!

I asked her why she wanted to wear a bathing suit in the winter instead of the lovely clothes she and I had picked out for the day and she couldn’t articulate an answer. I tried giving her choices “would you like to wear the green dress or the blue dress today?” but inevitably, it ended in her wearing something as tight fitting as she could find.

It wasn’t until after her diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) when we were working with an Occupational Therapist that I finally began to understand why she wanted to wear bathing suits in the winter (and summer, spring and fall!). What had previously seemed like a behaviour issue actually turned out to be a sensory need she had that wasn’t being met.

We were able to easily fix the issue by purchasing several tight gymnastics leotards* and suggesting that she wear them UNDER her clothing every day. This one tiny change enabled us to finally get out to the vehicle with her wearing clothing suitable for the weather! She wore the suits underneath her other clothing for a number of years and can now wear “regular” clothing most of the time. At times of stress though, she does prefer things that are tight.

*tip: buy the leotard a size or two too small to create that snugness your child is seeking

The reason for Miss Optimism’s choice in clothing and my subsequent frustration can be explained in one word that you may not be overly familiar with: proprioception. (Try saying that ten times fast!)

Proprioception is the body’s awareness of where it is in space. For most of us, it is as natural as breathing, but when there are sensory issues, it can require additional input (or less input) to keep that person regulated and keep that sensory system functioning in the way that it should.

Whereas some children with Sensory Processing Disorder avoid hugs, tight fitting clothing or being wrapped in a blanket, others seek out snug fitting garments and love to be wrapped like a sausage in a blanket or hugged tightly. When it comes to proprioception, I have some children who are seekers (like Miss Optimism) and some who are avoiders. It makes for an interesting household!

I am thankful that there is so much more information now than there was back when my daughter was first diagnosed with SPD. There’s actually a great new tool for parents or teachers. The Sensory Fix™ toolkit is a handpicked kit filled to the brim with over 15 tools to help your child organize their sensory systems today. The kit comes with a 1 year membership to Project Sensory’s exclusive printables club and it includes a simple to use Companion Guide that visually shows how each item in the kit can support your child’s sensory needs as well as a behavior chart that matches everyday kid behaviors to tools that are in the kit.

Sensory Fix™ for Everyday Sensory NeedsAll children have sensory needs, whether diagnosed with a sensory issue or not. This month, Lemon Lime Adventures is hosting a series that I think many parents will find helpful, Decoding Everyday Kid Behaviours. There, you will find more information about sensory needs that your child may have and how they may be presenting as behaviours.

Join me for a free 5 part email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries offering resources and hope for parents.

Surviving Public Bathrooms with a Child with Sensory Issues

Must Haves for Kids with Sensory Needs

Money Saving Sensory Solutions

Create Your Own Anti-Anxiety Kit for Children

Introducing Sensory Fix


  1. Oh. My. Goodness.
    I have one diagnosed, and an older daughter I kind of think has a few tactile issues — she is definitely a seeker! And after reading this, it’s like a giant lightbulb just went off! She is always putting on leotards (we have gotten several as hand-me-downs thankfully) or a swimsuit, like you said. She hasn’t tried wearing them when we go places, but I’m starting to wonder if there is more to that leotard than I first thought….

  2. I just found your site, and I’m so grateful for all the great advice and tips. My 3 year old is a big seeker, and I think something similar to your girl’s leotards would be very helpful for him. Do you have any ideas for boy alternatives to leotards?

  3. I have a son that has struggled with sensory issues since birth, but we were not allowed in school to use his sensory concerns on an IEP. I was told that because SPD or Sensory Processing Disorder is not listed in the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association) an individual cannot be labeled as having been “diagnosed” with this disorder. My son also was seen by an O.T. I would really sort of like if we could get that label, in order for teachers to empathize with his needs and to assist with his concerns.

Speak Your Mind