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.
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 of hers 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 still prefer to wear 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!)
What is proprioception?
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. All children have sensory needs, whether diagnosed with a sensory issue or not. If you suspect that your child may have Sensory Processing Disorder, you may want to read more about the signs of SPD.
Proprioception seeking behaviours:
- prefers tight fitting clothing
- likes weighted blankets
- enjoys wearing weighted vests
- unknowingly uses too much force
- mistakenly breaks things
- stomps or walks loudly
- difficulty with body awareness
- bumps into objects, walls or people
- kicks, bites, hits
- chews on objects such as pencils or clothing
- gets into others’ personal space
- excessively physically affectionate
- does not realize their own strength
Looking for real answers to your sensory questions? Sensory Processing Explained: a Handbook for Parents and Educators offers real strategies and practical solutions.
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Does my Child have Sensory Processing Disorder?
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Theres Just One Mommy says
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….
Hmmm…it will be interesting to see what you discover now that you’ll be looking to see if this is a sensory need for her.
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?
My son has worn tight fitting “underarmor” type shirts as a layer under regular shirts.
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.
That sounds really frustrating Jane. I hope you are able to get the school on board with what would work best for your son.
Bonnie Boltz says
What about children who refuse to wear anything restrictive? Socks, shoes, coats, long sleeved shirts. Everything has to be stretched. Help!
Sharla Kostelyk says
Bonnie, that is also a sensory issue. In that case, the child is sensory avoidant in this area rather than sensory seeking. It presents a challenge as well. Allowing your child to be part of the process of choosing their clothes helps. If you live in a warmer climate, then socks may not be necessary, but in winter in colder climates, that presents a problem! Choosing clothing made of lighter materials can help as well as choosing items that flow and move easily. Using a poncho or wrap in place of a coat may be easier for your child. Ask them a lot of questions about what feels comfortable to them and when you find something that works, try to find more items like it.
Did you ever get help for this? Dealing with it now. Socks are a nightmare for us. Leggings are even becoming a problem even though it’s all she has worn for years now.
Stressed Momma says
How does your daughter use the restroom with the leotard on? This sounds like a solution for my 6.5 year old, except for the restroom issue.
We were doing fine with leggings, but now she stretches out the waist band and then complains that they’re stretched out.
She is suddenly complaining about most shirts also … she hasn’t been able to articulate what the problem is.
Sharla Kostelyk says
My daughter was able to take the leotard off for using the washroom when she was about 4, but not all kids will be able to at that age. You could try to buy leggings that are a size or two too small. They may not fit lengthwise, but you could pretend they are meant to be capris. With shirts, it could be the tag that is bothering her (some also have a tag on the side as well as the back of the neck) or the material or the fit. When I would find a shirt my daughter could wear, I would buy several of the same shirt so that we would have backups. I hope that helps a bit.
Hannah Bott says
Can sensory processing like this start later, like 5? This is our exact experience and it just started. Also, and recs for shoes? This is a huge complaint as well, the shoes not being tight enough
I am crying tears of joy after reading this. I’ve struggled with my 3 and a half year old over wanting to wear bathing suits every day all day for about a year now. So much of this makes sense to me and now that I’ve researched it I can better understand her needs. Thank you thank you thank you.
My 6.5 year old daughter seeks pressure (prioproceptive) mainly with her shoes and socks, but to a lesser degree shirts and leggings. She wears ski socks and soccer socks now, which work out right now. However, we struggle so much with shoes and her toes are so sensitive even she can’t touch them. I had to basically hold her down to spread toes apart, and I think she has blisters between her toes. The worst part of this is that she hates this about herself and asks why God made her this way. Heart wrenching.