Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Clothes for kids with special needs: What are you waiting for, Prada?

This guest post is from Joanna Dreifus, who writes My Mom Shops. She lives in NYC with her two kids and is on the Board of YAI's New York League for Early Learning. She is all kinds of awesome.

One recent afternoon, I showed my 7-year-old daughter a couple of dresses and jackets that I had worn at her age. For the most part, these clothes are loud, psychedelic (I grew up in the 70s, after all), and not very attractive. They're made from cheap itchy fabrics and they boast tricky buttons, rusty zippers, and scratchy tags. No wonder my daughter said, "Blech." Of course, "Blech" is also her response to any dress that isn't made of jersey cotton and doesn't slip easily over her head. When it comes to clothing, both she and her four-year-old brother are "tactile defensive."

In each child's case, I noticed this trait during toddlerhood. It was particularly apparent with my son. Diagnosed with apraxia (a motor-speech disorder), he could not yet speak. But he screamed each time I attempted to dress him in a shirt with a tag inside it, or, for that matter, in any fabric that wasn't plain, soft cotton. No wool blends for my kids. They'd scratch their skin off—or mine.

I suspect that that many of you can relate. Lots of kids with special needs demonstrate sensitivity to certain clothing, even if they haven't been officially diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Which makes getting (them) dressed a constant, major concern.

As someone who blogs about products for children, I've found it perplexing that although many companies tout the softness and gentleness of their clothing for newborns and infants, these same businesses don't seem to recognize that significant numbers of those babies are growing up with sensory issues. These days, more and more children are unable to wear the same "big kid" outfits—replete with tags, zippers, and buttons—as their peers can (or their parents once did).

Here's the good news: In the past year or so, some smart designers have stepped in to meet our children's needs. These (mainly small) companies produce clothing that will not only feel good to your kids, but will also look stylish.

The first one I'd like to share is Soft Clothing. I've met founder/designer Jessica Ralli several times, and she conveys a keen, compassionate awareness of what tactile-defensive kids require with their clothing. Soft Clothing not only features flat seaming, tagless necks, encased elastic waistbands (and an absence of zippers, buttons, or itchy trims), but also maintains a collection that spans stylish outfits and everyday "mix 'n match" basics.

At the ENK Children's Show (an apparel trade show) recently, Soft's upcoming offerings included these sweet dropped-waist dresses (I love the one with the Peter-Pan collar, below). Available on Soft's website right now, my personal favorites are the Parisian-inspired Shift Dress with Bow ($28) and Long Sleeve Moped Tee ($18.50). Bonus: Sizes run all the way up to 12 years, recognizing the clothing needs of older kids.

Next is Teres Kids, a newer company which offers a smaller selection of "happy active clothing" for children with tactile sensitivities. Each piece is 100% organic cotton (which means the items cost a bit more, too).

I liked the new designs I saw at ENK Children's Show, too (especially that black long-sleeved tee and ruffled skirt above). Sizes run from 18 months to 8 years. On Teres Kid's website right now, my top picks are the girly ruffled shorts ($32) and the sporty unisex hoodie ($40).

Finally, I've only recently discovered By Kids Only!, a really cool site where kids themselves can draw and submit clothing designs. Each season, readers can vote online for the best designs, and the company then produces the winning outfits and makes them available for sale. Every finished product is guaranteed seamless and tagless. And shirts, for example, are designed with organic cotton spandex blend to give kids close-fitting, all-day sensory input. A great idea! My picks: Boys' Airplane Shirt ($16.99, below), Boys' Paratrooper Pants ($32.50) and Girls' Candy Dresses ($39.50).

Of course, a few big-name companies have done an admirable job of making comfortable clothing for sensory-sensitive kids. One that comes to mind is Hanna Andersson, where I buy organic underwear and PJs for my kids (again, you pay a premium). I'd love to hear what other brands or websites all of you have found helpful for your children's clothing sensitivities or needs!


  1. We wouldn't survive without Hanna Andersson's underwear and also their loose tights. Glad you mentioned them.

  2. Organic UNDERWEAR? Who knew?

    Wow--I really do need to get out more!

    We aren't too fussy, fortunately, so we are able to make do with the stylish selections at Wally World and the surplus store--but since that's a big step up from the thrift shop, we're living large!

  3. It would have also been nice to have some shirts and/or onesies with a pre-sewn hole for a feeding tube port.

  4. I haven't used these, but I've heard they are really good. "SmartKnitKIDS® patented seamless socks are perfect for children experiencing sensory processing diļ¬€erences, hypersensitivity or who simply can’t stand annoying seams! These super soft socks for sensitive little feet will not wrinkle or bunch and are proven to reduce irritation." They also just came out with seamless underwear.

    AG Apparel makes clothes primarily for adults who use wheelchairs, but I am sure she would make clothes for children who use wheelchairs as well. Her clothes use Universal Elements elements Including:

    Dual zippers
    Elastic waists
    Easy to get on and off
    Comfortable when seated
    Large button holes
    Durable, yet comfortable, fabrics
    Velcro free

    Amazing woman runs the company.

  5. Great post. My son has been asking about seamless underwear and I will have to check out your tips. Target's Sean White (the skateboarder) t-shirts are soft and have a piece of material sewn over the inside seams so they don't itch or scratch. Also Old Navy has some t-shirts that are "old looking" and are soft enough for my very sensitive boy - right now there are Tom and Jerry and Star Wars in this soft type. As a last resort I purchased 2 packages of Hanes tagless undershirts, purchased some clothing paint and made him some t-shirts myself.

  6. This post is so well-timed! I need a dressy dress for a kid with sensory issues for a wedding in May. We attended a black-tie wedding last weekend and I bought a dress that SEEMED soft enough in the store, but she was sobbing from the feeling of it on her skin by hour #2. Oy. Thoughts about where to get a soft, formal-y dress?

    On the informal tip, I've bought a number of things from Soft and they really are GREAT. And cute. I agree that the Hanna loose tights are incredible and wear like iron (my older daughter lived in them) but my hypersensitive little one can't handle ANY tights. (Leggings are fine, thank goodness.) Lands End cotton knit dresses are also good, with no sewn-in labels.

  7. Marjorie- thanks for the reminder about the Lands End soft jersey dresses. That's been a "go-to" dress for my daughter since she was a toddler. They're priced so well, too. As for formal dresses, that's a tough one. Soft has some dressy styles, but maybe not dressy enough for a wedding. Once you switch to dressier fabrics, you sacrifice the comfort, you know?

  8. We do OK with Hanes for underwear, because there are no tags. Some of their varieties have covered elsatics. And Target's brand for T-shirts, etc., has no tags either. Their basics are soft enough- often I'll run them through the dryer a couple of times.

    Marjory- can you buy her something in black velour? It looks fancy like velvet, and stretches. I get the flowy kinds, not the ones with big gathers. You can even do separates if they're made from the same material.

    And I have trouble with tights too, sometimes, as does my otherwise non-sensort daughter. Leggings with socks are useful.

  9. love hearing about all these great brands. i love super-nice feeling clothes for my kids, too. splendid and egg both use wonderful fabrics, but i think the clothes have tags.

  10. I wanted to introduce myself and my company, Sweet Lemonade. I make custom boutique clothing for children with special needs. You may view a SAMPLING of my clothing at or Sweet Lemonade Boutique on facebook. I always enjoy hearing from parents with specific requirements so drop me a line anytime!

    Owner - Sweet Lemonade

  11. I have SPD and am very difficult with clothing nothing too tight ,nothing scrathy another way i dont fit in most teen girls wear tight tees and scrathy tight skinny jeans

  12. My son is on the Autism spectrum (Aspergers) so he has a fine motor delay (no buttons or snaps). He is a big boy and needs a 16 jeans in pull ups. He is only 6years old and finding pull up pants for him at the size he needs has been almost impossible. I've found some cargo style pants which my Mom alters to make the legs shorter but...he really wants jeans to 'be like the other kids'. Anyone have any ideas???

    1. In a size 16, which I'm reading has a 28' waist and 30' inseam, you could jump into adult clothes. I personally would recommend Buck & Buck for adaptive clothing in adult sizes. Yes, they are geared toward seniors, but they have jeans with stretchy waistbands like you're looking for. I have ordered from them several times and been completely thrilled with everything we've purchased from them. Good luck!

  13. I need clothes for a low tone 15 month old. I hate having to get her arms in and out of stuff. I might start a clothing company!

  14. I am looking for one piece rompers for my nearly four year old...not a 'onezie', but the one piece type that are longer down the leg (as to the knee, not the ankle), with snaps in the crotch...made out of cotton. They have these at any children's store/site up to a 2T but I would love these in a size 4 or 5 and even bigger!! My son has a g-tube and wears 'normal' clothes when we go out anywhere but need these for around the house comfort and convenience. Two piece outfits (even pajamas) just don't cut it when he is crawling around on our floors (especially since he does the commando belly crawl). The romper is comfortable and keeps he g-tube clean and keeps it from getting 'stuck' or dragging or being pulled open (or out!) while he is crawling around. I can't find these anywhere!! Does anyone know of any company that makes and sells these at a reasonable price? Thank you!

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      I may be able to help you. I run a custom sewing shop and make organic, sensory "safe" clothing. If you can send me an email and let me know a little more about what your needs are, I think we can come up with something made just for your son. Please e-mail me at inf (at) handmadebytheseedsof3 (dot)com

    2. I know this is a year later, but these might help you. - we love them for our 7yo who has a g-tube. Hope it helps!

  15. this all sounds great but what about affordable clothes for a 16 year old with cp. she cant button or zip and all pants so far are too big that slide below her butt. we have tried many stores with no luck

  16. PLS SEND ME A CATALOG OF YOUR CLOTHING LINE FOR SPECIAL NEEDS MY NAME IS I have a n AUTISTIC daughter 11 yrs and still find it hard to find easy and stylish clothing for her pls hel

    Susan ST Jacques
    809 Hillsdale Cres.
    Sudbury, Ont P3E 3T1


Thanks for sharing!

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