Schedule A Consultation!
Call Now: 877-77-ARTTX

Sensory Friendly Fabrics For Children With ASD

Published on 10/16/2023
sensory friendly fabrics for children with asd

The texture of fabrics has the power to soothe or irritate. That power is only enhanced for many children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and who have heightened sensitivities. 

However, this type of hypersensitivity is not exclusive to individuals with autism, so you may find that focusing on finding sensory-friendly fabric for clothing and bedding materials adds a layer of comfort and calm for the whole family.

Surround Your Family With Sensory Friendly Materials

Everyone's textural preferences differ, but some textures and materials tend to soothe those with ASD more than others. On the opposite side of the spectrum, some textures agitate those with tactile sensitivity, in which case the wrong pair of socks or an itchy sweater can cause a meltdown.

Learning which is which can be game-changing when it comes to getting ready for school, bedtime and staying in bed, or keeping a child occupied in the car or while waiting for an appointment.

Signs A Child Has Heightened Fabric (Or Texture) Sensitivities

First, it's essential to notice if your child with ASD has heightened fabric sensitivities or particular material aversions. If your child is non-verbal, you'll pay close attention to their physical interaction with the fabric or the area of the body where it irritates them.

Some of the most common signs a child is unhappy or bothered by something they're wearing, sitting on, or lying on/under include:

  • They're itching or scratching a lot (often at the neck or around areas where tighter clothing makes contact with skin).
  • Refusal to wear socks (many sensitive people hate sock seams, especially if they're out of alignment or rub their feet wrong with shoes).
  • Wanting to wear the same things over and over (it could be they're the only garments that don't irritate or agitate the child or adult).
  • Continuous fidgeting.
  • They are pulling or tugging at their clothes.
  • Specific color preferences (it might be that visual sensitivities drive their fabric or material choices).
  • Sound triggers can be an issue for some children, like the sound of a zipper or the sounds made by corduroy when they walk.
  • Having meltdowns and tantrums when it's time to wear a specific outfit or type of underwear, pajamas, leggings, dresses, etc.

If you aren't touch or fabric sensitive, it may be hard to understand why your child is so picky or the intensity of their reaction to certain fabrics or textiles. However, we can assure you there are millions of children who aren't on the autism spectrum who hate the same fabrics or irritating sensations as your child does - all due to processing differences.

The Importance Of Fabric Categories

The mission is to figure out what works and what doesn't - and then focus on the categories of stimuli that calm - rather than disrupt - their nervous system.

There are different categories of textiles, fabrics, or materials and how they affect individuals in their environment. For example, in a recent study, Clothes, Sensory Experiences and Autism: Is Wearing the Right Fabric Important, researchers interviewed college students with ASD to gain input on their daily experiences.  

Their research yielded consistent and unsurprising findings about what people with ASD's fabric and materials needs, as well as tactile features most likely to cause stress, agitation, or the inability to concentrate. Not surprisingly, how the clothing or textiles feel is far more important than style and looks. 

Loose is better than tight

When it comes to clothing and bedding, loose garments, sheets, and blankets are always better than those that are tight, restrictive, or confining. The study group preferred clothes that allow free movement. One interviewer said that the looser and softer the clothing, the more they felt naked, which was their preference.

If motor coordination is an issue, kids fare best with clothes that can be pulled on and off easily, as opposed to clothes with buttons, zippers, or ties. For example, pants with looser-fitting elastic waistbands are typically preferable to jeans that button or snap - especially when working on potty training.

NOTE: As we publish this post, we're heading into summer - and bathing suits can be a problem. If you can't find a bathing suit that makes the grade, a favorite pair of athletic shorts (and a t-shirt or tank top, if necessary) is just fine in most places. 

No tags, seams, or other clothing irritants, please

Clothing with printed labels rather than a material tag is always preferred. Instead of cutting a tag out (which can leave irritating edges/corners), parents and guardians should remove the tag entirely by the threads.

They also expressed almost unanimous dissatisfaction with seams, which often rub and irritate. Seamless clothes or loose-fitting garments made from soft fabric and thread are preferred. Other common fabric irritants include:

  • Glittered/metallic threads
  • Ruffled edges or borders
  • Lace
  • Direct skin contact with wool clothing

Muted solid colors are usually preferred

Colorful patterns or busy patterned garments or decor are visually agitating for many people on the spectrum. The interviewees tended to prefer solid, muted colors for clothing and environmental textiles. If a fabric is patterned, plain patterns are better than busy ones.

Fabric preferences tend toward soft and natural

Given that most people with autism prefer to wear soft fabrics, it's not surprising to learn that their favorite fabrics were soft cotton, satin, silk, and denim. Bamboo and linen are also a good idea with the right level of softness.

Their least favorite fabrics or materials were wool, Hession, polyester, and spandex - all of which were associated with irritation. Some even associate long-term contact with aggravating materials with pain and emotional distress.

Again, it's important to remember that body language is key to understanding a child's fabric preference - especially when they're babies or nonverbal.

Textiles As A Soothing Tool

Beyond clothing and bedding, textiles can also be used as soothing tools. The interesting thing about these sensory-friendly fabrics is that some can never be comfortably worn, but they are soothing when touched with the hands.

For example:

  • Sequined pillows or fabrics. These can be great sensory or fidget tools, even if a child would squirm wearing a t-shirt with sequin stitching. Therapists can recommend specific types, but many children appreciate reversible sequined fabrics (also called mermaid sequins) that can be smoothed back and forth and change colors.
  • Embroidery. Having embroidery on a garment may agitate the skin, but having a piece of fabric with a texture-rich, embroidered pattern may be soothing to the fingertips and palms.
  • Weighted blankets or vests. Despite an aversion to tight or restrictive clothing, some children with sensory processing disorders love the feeling of being cocooned or weighted down. If so, speak to your occupational therapist or your child's special education teacher about recommendations.
  • Leather. Many children love the textural differences between the cool smooth and soft suede sides of leather swatches or products. 
  • Fringed blankets or pillows. Fringe may be tickly or itch in clothing form, but many children with ASD appreciate running their hands or faces across softly fringed borders or edges.
  • Whatever your child gravitates toward. Odds are you've caught your child rubbing a particular blanket or pillow edge repeatedly. Or, maybe they always head to a certain chair or blanket at grandma's house. Pay attention to the items and design tenets they prefer, and then speak to them about their preferences to learn more.

Trial & Error Yield Positive Sensory Friendly Fabric Information

Every child's experience is different, so trial and error are the only ways to learn more about which fabrics work and which don't. The behavior analysts on the Autism Response Team get a sense of what works and what doesn't by observing our clients in their environments. 

Do you suspect your child is triggered by certain materials or textures? Our team can help you curate the right clothing, bedding, and other products that provide comfort and smooth out their daily routine. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

Join Our Mailing List

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram