Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Functional Fashion

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Functional Fashion

Article excerpt

As children get older, they want to do as much for themselves as possible and fit in with their peers. For children who have special needs, getting dressed can be a challenge, especially if they prefer to wear the same styles the other kids are wearing.

Fitting in does not have to mean spending a lot of money. With some smart shopping and a few alterations, children who have special needs can be in step with their peers. For example, jeans with an elastic waist or a T-shirt with obvious shoulder snaps, may make a child feel different. Jeans altered With hidden Velcro[R] in the fly or a T-shirt with a hidden closure at the shoulders, however, can enable the child to dress herself, and still feel a sense of belonging with her peers. A child who uses a walker, but wears jeans, T-shirts, and the same gym-shoes as everyone else, will have that boost of self-esteem to keep him going.


You can reduce the stress of selecting clothing by looking at the flyers in the newspapers and checking the catalogs so that you understand what kids are wearing.

Much of your shopping will probably take place in your local stores and malls. There is also a growing market of adaptive clothing providers. Searching the Internet or browsing your local yellow pages may turn up businesses and catalogs that are helpful. Ask a local support group or other parents which companies they have found most useful.


Read labels and look at the required care for an item. The amount of care a garment needs should be an important factor in the decision to purchase it.

Durable fabrics include cotton, denim, polyester, lycra, and acrylic. Blends which include any of these fibers are good for children. Low-maintenance fabrics include denim, polyester nylon, lycra, and acrylic. To let the skin breathe, consider natural fibers such as cotton, cool silk, or ramie. This is an important factor for a child who uses a wheelchair.

Children may have fabric allergies. Wool and animal hairs are the most common reactive fabrics. Latex, rubber, and elastic have also been known to be allergens. Watch for hives, redness, itching, or swelling where the fabric touches the skin. Stay with natural fibers like cotton, rayon, and linen. For instance, a drawstring would be the perfect option to substitute for the rubber elastic in pants. (Some elastic comes cased in cotton, so that may be better for some individuals as well).

Synthetic fibers may feel less comfortable due to their lower absorbency. The best choice is often a garment that has a fabric blend which includes some natural and some synthetic fibers. This provides easy care, durability, and comfort.

Due to the processing used in some clothing, it is advisable to wash any new garments in an allergen-free detergent that is also perfume free, before putting them on your child. Such detergents include: Ultra Tide Free, (which lacks perfumes, dyes, or phosphates), and Seventh Generation Ultra Laundry Detergent which lacks brightners, dyes, and artificial fragrances. For more information, you may also wish to consult The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) online at:


Alterations do not have to be complex, and a few simple adjustments can help many individuals. Velcro cannot be praised enough. Velcro works best to replace zippers and buttons. I recommend putting the "female" (fuzzy loop side) of the Velcro where it will face the body and the "male" (hook part) facing away from the body. Be sure to keep Velcro closed when storing and washing. It can be brushed through with a fine-toothed comb if fiber particles start to collect. …

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