A new pair of shoes for me is a luxury and I like to stretch out that feel good progress with trips to numerous shops, trying on pair after pair and eventually heading out in the new shoes to wherever that might be. I’ll wear those new shoes to the supermarket if I have to.
Unfortunately this is not the case when new shoes are needed for my daughter Marlee who has sensory processing disorder. To be honest I should remember to buy the same shoe in the next size up but I never do. So when Marlee’s sandals literally fell apart and the only other shoes she owns are her school shoes/black sneakers, I had to bite the bullet and take her shoe shopping.
It all starts off well because like most kids she loves to receive new things. She’s excited and we start discussing the type of shoe we should get, just like I would with my girlfriends before a night out. Who am I kidding, there are no nights out anymore but you know what I mean. The next step is to stand in front of the shelves and stare for a few minutes. It’s a process of elimination. No heels needed (why are they even on a 5 year olds boot?), no crazy straps or fasteners that will rub, not too shiny, no high boots and something that will actually do the job. Sometimes this takes a while and several shops. Most times we leave empty handed. Occasionally we see something we both like and it’s try on time, oh boy.
Now typically you might think that this is where we might see a meltdown or issue arise due to the fit or something rubbing but in fact it’s the complete opposite. Marlee is so desperate to buy the shoes that she goes into what I call “denial” of what the shoe is actually making her feel. I ask over and over how it feels, does it rub, is it comfortable etc etc. I have to guess most of the time, will she like this when we get home? Is the shoe going to stretch and get more comfortable?
So, in the end we buy the pair of shoes. It’s bliss and we walk out of that shop feeling like a million dollars. We have her first outfit with the shoes planned and it’s all systems go. Until we actually wear the shoe that is.
Now is the time for the meltdown. Refusal, anger, anxiety, fear and all over panic arises when we want to leave the house wearing the new pair. This used to frustrate me, I’m not going to lie. I would be so angry that after the entire ordeal to find an appropriate shoe, we would have to take the shoes back or they would be worn once or twice. But it’s not her fault and I’ve come to realise that and not react to the situation. Instead of forcing the issue, Marlee is in charge. She can take the shoes off and we try again. I once again go through why the shoes might be hurting but it is ultimately up to her. She is a strong minded individual who knows what she wants and I encourage her to take the lead.
We have a 50/50 chance of wearing these new shoes and I’ve just gotta roll with it. Small steps (literally) and hopefully one day before she grows out of them, they’ll be an everyday part of her wardrobe.
To put this in perspective, how many new pairs of shoes have you purchased and then never worn? I know I’m guilty!
5 Ways to Make shoes more comfortable
Any pair of shoes can be made more comfortable with a few tricks of the trade:
1. Tight or loose?
Consider whether loose fitting sandals or something snug around the ankles would be better. My 13 year old son strongly prefers Converse high top sneakers because they make him feel secure, but others find that style too constricting. Allow the person with special needs to take extra time to select and try on a preferred style at the shoe store.
2. Desensitize the feet
Warm up the feet with a massage or vibrating toy before putting on shoes or socks – this will slightly desensitize the feet.
3. Get the right pair of socks
Offer seamless socks (like these at Kozie Klothes) or compression socks so that only smooth fabric is touching the skin (see more sensory friendly clothing tips here).
4. Think about shoe rules
Be consistent about shoe rules. Is it OK to wear Crocs all year round? Or are you ready to enforce shoes with socks every day?
5. Shoe size matters
Make sure you have the right size shoe! My 13 year old went from a men’s size 6 to a men’s size 11 over a period of 14 months, and his feet are still growing.