Autism and Wearing Shoes: Understanding the Challenges

One of the challenges that autistic individuals face is difficulty wearing shoes. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind this challenge and offer some tips on how to overcome it.

Alan Hollander
December 6, 2023

Autism and Wearing Shoes: Understanding the Challenges

One of the challenges that autistic individuals face is difficulty wearing shoes. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind this challenge and offer some tips on how to overcome it.

Understanding Sensory Issues in Autism

When it comes to individuals with autism, sensory processing challenges are a common occurrence. These challenges can affect various aspects of daily life, including the experience of wearing shoes. Understanding the impact of sensory issues on wearing shoes is crucial for finding effective solutions.

Sensory Processing Challenges

Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives and interprets sensory information from the environment. Individuals with autism often experience difficulties in processing and integrating sensory input, leading to sensory sensitivities or sensory-seeking behaviors.

Some individuals with autism may be hypersensitive to certain sensory stimuli, such as touch, texture, or pressure. Others may have a higher threshold for sensory input and seek additional sensory stimulation to regulate their sensory system. These sensory processing challenges can significantly impact the comfort and tolerance of wearing shoes.

Impact on Wearing Shoes

For individuals with autism, wearing shoes can be a sensory overload experience. The sensations and textures associated with shoes can trigger discomfort and anxiety. Here are some common ways sensory issues can impact wearing shoes:

  • Hypersensitivity to Textures: Some individuals with autism may be hypersensitive to certain textures, making it challenging to tolerate the feeling of shoes against their skin. The texture of shoe materials, such as rough fabrics or synthetic materials, can cause discomfort and irritation.
  • Intolerance to Tightness or Pressure: Sensory sensitivities can also manifest as an intolerance to tightness or pressure. Shoes that fit snugly or have restrictive closures may cause distress and discomfort. The sensation of tightness or pressure can be overwhelming and lead to an aversion to wearing shoes.
  • Sensitivity to Seams and Stitches: The presence of seams, stitches, or other embellishments inside shoes can cause discomfort for individuals with autism. These small details can create sensory irritations, resulting in a reluctance to wear shoes.

Understanding these sensory issues is the first step in finding effective strategies to help individuals with autism overcome the challenges associated with wearing shoes. By implementing sensory-friendly approaches and considering the unique sensory preferences of each individual, it is possible to find solutions that promote comfort and minimize sensory discomfort.

In the following sections, we will explore strategies, modifications, and sensory-friendly features that can facilitate a more positive experience when it comes to wearing shoes for individuals with autism.

Free Unrecognizable child with bent leg tying laces on dirty footwear while sitting on playground on street with anonymous kid on blurred background Stock Photo

Common Sensory Issues with Shoes

For individuals with autism, sensory issues can significantly impact their experience of wearing shoes. These sensory challenges can make it difficult to find comfortable and tolerable footwear. Here are some common sensory issues that individuals with autism may face when it comes to shoes:

Hypersensitivity to Textures

Many individuals with autism experience hypersensitivity to certain textures. This can manifest as discomfort or even pain when wearing shoes with textures that are deemed unpleasant. Fabrics that are rough, scratchy, or have a texture that causes irritation may trigger sensory sensitivities and make wearing shoes a struggle.

To address this issue, it's important to look for shoes made from soft and smooth materials that are gentle on the skin. Opting for sensory-friendly shoe brands that prioritize comfort and considerate design can help alleviate the discomfort caused by texture hypersensitivity.

Intolerance to Tightness or Pressure

Individuals with autism may have an intolerance to tightness or pressure on their feet. Shoes that fit too snugly or have tight closures can cause discomfort and distress. The sensation of pressure can be overwhelming for some, leading to sensory overload and resistance to wearing shoes.

To overcome this issue, it's essential to choose shoes that provide a comfortable fit without excessive constriction. Adjustable closures, such as Velcro straps or laces, can be beneficial as they allow for customization and accommodate individual preferences. Additionally, opting for shoes made from flexible materials can help reduce the sensation of tightness and pressure.

Sensitivity to Seams and Stitches

Sensitivity to seams and stitches is another common sensory issue that individuals with autism may face when wearing shoes. The presence of prominent seams or rough stitches on the inside of the shoe can cause discomfort and irritation. This can be particularly challenging for individuals with heightened tactile sensitivity.

To address this issue, it's important to look for shoes with seamless construction. Seamless shoes are designed to minimize the presence of irritating seams and stitches on the inside of the shoe, providing a smoother and more comfortable experience. Seamless shoes can greatly reduce the risk of discomfort and allow individuals with autism to wear shoes more comfortably.

Understanding and addressing these common sensory issues can help individuals with autism find relief and comfort when wearing shoes. By considering their sensitivities to textures, tightness or pressure, and seams or stitches, it becomes possible to select appropriate footwear that promotes a positive sensory experience.

Strategies for Overcoming Sensory Issues

For individuals with autism who experience sensory issues when wearing shoes, there are several strategies that can help overcome these challenges. By implementing gradual desensitization techniques, choosing the right shoes, and making modifications and adaptations, it is possible to find relief and improve comfort.

Gradual Desensitization

Gradual desensitization is a technique that involves gradually exposing individuals to the sensations associated with wearing shoes. This process helps them become more accustomed to the sensory input and reduces discomfort over time.

To implement gradual desensitization, start by introducing short periods of shoe-wearing and gradually increase the duration as the individual becomes more comfortable. It can be helpful to pair this process with activities or distractions that the individual enjoys to create positive associations with wearing shoes. Celebrate small achievements and provide plenty of support and encouragement throughout the process.

Choosing the Right Shoes

Selecting the right shoes is essential for individuals with autism who experience sensory issues. Consider the following factors when choosing shoes:

  • Material: Opt for shoes made from soft and flexible materials, such as breathable fabrics or leather. These materials are less likely to cause discomfort or irritation.
  • Seamless Construction: Look for shoes with seamless interiors. The absence of seams and stitches helps minimize friction and irritation.
  • Adjustable Closures: Shoes with adjustable closures, such as hook-and-loop straps or elastic laces, allow for a customizable fit. This can help accommodate individual preferences and sensitivities.

Remember that every individual is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. It may be necessary to try different shoe styles and materials to find the most comfortable option. Avoiding shoes that are too tight or have rigid construction can often help alleviate sensory issues.

Modifications and Adaptations

Modifying and adapting shoes can be a helpful strategy to alleviate sensory issues for individuals with autism. Consider the following modifications:

  • Insoles: Adding cushioned or orthopedic insoles can enhance comfort and reduce pressure on sensitive areas of the feet.
  • Socks: Opt for seamless socks made from soft materials to minimize friction and irritation.
  • Lacing Techniques: Explore alternative lacing techniques, such as skipping eyelets or using locking laces, to adjust the fit and reduce pressure points.

It's important to involve the individual in the decision-making process and listen to their feedback. They may have specific preferences or sensory sensitivities that can guide the modifications and adaptations needed.

By implementing these strategies and considering individual needs and preferences, it is possible to help individuals with autism overcome sensory issues when wearing shoes. Seek guidance from occupational therapists, who can provide tailored solutions and techniques to address sensory challenges. Additionally, supportive communities and professional guidance can offer valuable insights and resources.

Sensory-Friendly Shoe Features

When it comes to addressing sensory issues related to wearing shoes in autism, selecting the right footwear can make a significant difference. Sensory-friendly shoes are designed with features that prioritize comfort and accommodate the specific needs of individuals with sensory sensitivities. Here, we will explore three key sensory-friendly shoe features: soft and flexible materials, seamless construction, and adjustable closures.

Soft and Flexible Materials

One important feature to consider when looking for sensory-friendly shoes is the use of soft and flexible materials. Shoes made from these materials provide a gentle and comfortable fit without causing unnecessary pressure or discomfort. Soft materials such as high-quality fabrics, mesh, or leather with a supple texture can help reduce irritation and rubbing against the skin.

By opting for shoes made from soft and flexible materials, individuals with autism can experience increased comfort and decreased sensory sensitivity. It's worth noting that shoes with rigid, stiff, or coarse materials may exacerbate sensory challenges and contribute to discomfort. Therefore, choosing shoes crafted from softer materials is a practical step towards alleviating sensory issues associated with footwear.

Seamless Construction

Seams and stitches in shoes can pose significant challenges for individuals with sensory sensitivities. The presence of seams can cause irritation, rubbing, and discomfort, leading to sensory overload and reluctance to wear shoes. Sensory-friendly shoes often feature seamless construction, ensuring a smooth interior that minimizes contact with sensitive areas of the foot.

Seamless shoes are designed to reduce potential sources of irritation caused by seams and stitches. This feature can be particularly beneficial for individuals who are hypersensitive to tactile stimuli. By eliminating seams and providing a seamless interior, these shoes offer a more comfortable and sensory-friendly experience.

Adjustable Closures

Another important sensory-friendly shoe feature is the presence of adjustable closures. Shoes with adjustable closures, such as Velcro straps or elastic laces, allow for a customized fit that accommodates individual preferences and sensory needs. This feature enables a snug yet comfortable fit without excessive tightness or pressure.

Adjustable closures offer the advantage of easily adapting the shoe's fit throughout the day to account for any fluctuations in foot size or sensory sensitivity. They also provide independence for individuals who may struggle with fine motor skills or have difficulty tying shoelaces. By choosing shoes with adjustable closures, individuals with autism can achieve a secure and comfortable fit, promoting a positive shoe-wearing experience.

When seeking footwear options for individuals with sensory sensitivities, considering these sensory-friendly shoe features can greatly contribute to their overall comfort and well-being. Remember to explore various brands and styles that prioritize these features while keeping in mind individual preferences and needs.

Additional Support and Resources

When it comes to overcoming sensory issues related to wearing shoes in autism, there are various support and resources available to help individuals and their families navigate this challenge. These resources can provide valuable guidance, strategies, and professional assistance. Here are a few options to consider:

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy (OT) can play a crucial role in addressing sensory issues and helping individuals with autism develop the skills needed to tolerate and wear shoes comfortably. Occupational therapists are trained to assess sensory needs and create tailored interventions to improve sensory processing and integration.

Through sensory-focused interventions, such as sensory integration therapy, an occupational therapist can help individuals gradually desensitize to sensory stimuli associated with wearing shoes. They may use specialized techniques, activities, and exercises to promote sensory regulation and enhance tolerance to different textures, pressures, and sensations. Occupational therapy can be accessed through clinics, schools, or private practitioners.

Supportive Communities

Connecting with supportive communities and organizations can provide invaluable emotional support, understanding, and shared experiences. Online forums, support groups, and social media communities specifically focused on autism and sensory issues can be a great source of information and support for parents and individuals with autism.

Engaging with these communities allows you to connect with others who may have faced similar challenges and found effective strategies for managing sensory issues related to wearing shoes. Sharing experiences, seeking advice, and offering support in these communities can provide a sense of belonging and comfort. Joining local autism support groups or seeking online communities dedicated to autism can help you connect with others who understand and can offer valuable insights.

Professional Guidance and Advice

Seeking professional guidance and advice from experts in the field can be instrumental in addressing sensory issues related to wearing shoes in autism. Consulting with healthcare professionals, such as pediatricians, developmental pediatricians, or psychologists, who specialize in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), can provide expert insight into sensory challenges and potential solutions.

These professionals can offer personalized recommendations based on the specific needs and sensory profile of the individual with autism. They may suggest strategies, adaptations, or refer to other specialists, such as occupational therapists or podiatrists, who can provide additional support. Professional guidance can help you navigate the complexities of sensory issues and ensure the best possible outcomes for individuals with autism.

Remember, every individual with autism is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. It's important to find tailored solutions and strategies that are suitable for the individual's specific sensory needs. By utilizing the available support and resources, you can find effective ways to overcome sensory issues and help individuals with autism comfortably wear shoes.


Can occupational therapy help with wearing shoes?

Yes, occupational therapy can be very beneficial for autistic individuals who struggle with sensory issues related to wearing shoes. An occupational therapist can work with the individual to develop a sensory diet, which is a personalized plan of activities that provide the right amount of sensory input needed to regulate their nervous system.

What if an autistic individual refuses to wear shoes altogether?

It's important to respect an individual's preferences and needs when it comes to wearing shoes. If an autistic individual refuses to wear shoes, it may be helpful to explore alternative options such as sandals or slip-on shoes. It's also important to ensure that the individual's feet are protected from injury.

Is there a cure for autism-related sensory issues?

There is no cure for autism, but there are many strategies and interventions that can help manage sensory issues related to wearing shoes. It's important to work with a healthcare professional who specializes in autism spectrum disorder for guidance on managing these challenges.

How can caregivers support autistic individuals with shoe-wearing challenges?

Caregivers can offer support by understanding and respecting the individual's sensory needs, providing positive reinforcement when they successfully wear shoes, and working with healthcare professionals to develop strategies for managing shoe-wearing challenges. It's also important for caregivers to advocate for accommodations at school or in other settings that may help the individual feel more comfortable wearing shoes.


Wearing shoes can be a challenge for autistic individuals due to sensory issues. However, with the right strategies, it's possible to overcome this challenge. By choosing the right shoes, gradually exposing the individual to wearing shoes, using socks, and sensory-friendly insoles, autistic individuals can be comfortable and successful at wearing shoes. It's important to remember that every individual with autism is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another.