Fashionable Adaptive Clothing

Adaptive Clothing for Children

When the holidays approach, we scour the department store to find another outfit for our daughter can wear. We prepare it days before, so there are fewer issues when wearing it. She accommodates us, but we struggle during bathroom breaks and at the end of the day. We want to give her the time to dress independently, but the outfit is too tricky for my nimble hands. If only they had clothing designed for children.

Of course, they do. It took time to think of this option. Partly due to me being honest with myself that my child requires unique clothing to help manage the symptoms of aromatic l-amino decarboxylase (AADC) deficiency. Also, when I walk into a store, I am greeted by a colorful array of cute dresses and outfits. None of which are designed for my daughter. I am sure parents of typical children sometimes question the designs of those clothing.

Adaptive Clothing

What is adaptive clothing?

When it dawned on me that I should explore this, it only took a few clicks on the internet to find several shops. I wasn’t sure what to search for, but my queries for “inclusive clothing” and “adaptive clothing” provided more than enough results.

The clothing was fashionable and did not present as being for disabled children. It reminded me of when my daughter was young, and we always kept her in a mesh onesie to help with her temperature instability. As she grew, we moved away from functionality and cared more about design.

A balance of design and function

Our daughter has a unique style that I want to foster. On days she doesn’t have school, I like her picking out her outfits. So we wanted to continue to select colorful designs. But we also liked how accessible clothing was easier for her and us

Getting dressed is an essential lifelong skill. If we always do it for her, we deny her the opportunity to learn and teach her helplessness. We spend money for her to attend occupational therapy (OT), which incorporates similar movements. Not taking the time to let her dress is like skipping class.

The more fashionable, the higher the price went. We were strategic in what we bought since she’s still growing. Like the standard stores, the specialty shops online also had sales and discounts. Here are the features that stood out to us.

Added traction or protection

Clothing that had added features for traction and protection were the ones we bought the most. Our daughter began to fall more as she learned to walk independently. This gave her more confidence to try new things even if she wasn’t 100% successful yet.

Socks with added grip at the bottom or pants with added protection at the knees helped us step back and allow her to take risks for progress.

Magnets and velcro

During OT class, my daughter works on developing fine motor skills by using buttons and zippers. Keeping these on her clothing seemed important because it was an opportunity to practice, but it takes more time. I want her to be independent, but if I stay fixated on her ability to use a button, she may not achieve complete independence as soon as I would like.

Clothing with concealed magnets or velcro allows her to easily open and close. From the outside, it is barely noticeable. It looks so convenient that I want a pair for myself. Testing it, we have not had any wardrobe malfunctions, but I could see a cheaply designed product accidentally causing exposure issues.

Loops and large openings

The final feature was so simple that I don’t know why clothing doesn’t come with it already. As a bonus, some socks also included loops, known as motor skill support, so our daughter could easily pull them up. Motor skill supports can be added to undergarments, pants, or shoes.

Many shirts came with velcro at the collar to create a larger opening. These could be used for caregivers to easily slip on shirts or as training shirts for children to dress independently as they build motor skills.

No seams, buttons, or tags

I never thought of it before, but this simple adjustment makes clothing more comfortable. My daughter is becoming more active, but she was often sitting or lying down before gene therapy. It would be highly uncomfortable if she had something irritating or pressing into her skin.

Tags annoy me too. For someone with sensory processing issue it must feel like torture. The simple act of removing tags or not including them, helps children from being distracted.

The same can be true with seems. As I write this, I can notices the folds in my clothing. If I were not able to control my attention, it would be a distraction. Accessible clothing companies know how simple adjustments can make a big impact.

Sensory considerations

We have been working on our daughter’s sensory processing issues, and this feature caught my eye. I didn’t consider how clothing could play a role in supporting her. Soothing touch and textures can cause the release of both serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which AADC deficiency children lack.

While sleeping, our daughter always benefited from a weighted blanket or an arm across her chest. The weight or pressure can help alleviate anxiety. Clothing ranged in thickness to full compression. The compression clothing is not easy to put on, but they were ideal for events when her anxiety may be heightened.

Research suggests that pressure or firm tactile sensory can provide proprioceptive input that creates a calming feeling. It can also offer support for hypotonia symptoms. Like soothing textures, sensory compression and deep pressure can also increase serotonin and dopamine. It can also slow involuntary functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and the stress hormone cortisol.

Fashionable Accessible Clothing
Accessible clothing doesn't have to standout as different and can be fashionable.

Adaptive clothing is booming

Obviously, we are not the only family who considered this. Retailers are catching on. According to the Washington Post, retail data from Coresight Research suggests that adaptive clothing “could become a $64.3 billion a year business for U.S. retailers.” Look for more designs and possibly lower prices. Retailers will want to hear from us, and we could help to spawn the next line of adaptive and inclusive clothing. 

"That's always the why behind the what: to get rid of negative perceptions of people with disabilities, and styling is the tool that I use to do that."

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