How Do You Get An Autistic Child To Keep Their Shoes On?

February 19, 2024

The struggle is real, and it can be frustrating for both you and your child. Thankfully, there are a few strategies you can try to help your child keep their shoes on.

Understanding the Challenge

When it comes to getting an autistic child to wear shoes, parents often face unique difficulties. Understanding these challenges is crucial to finding effective strategies and solutions. Two key factors that contribute to the difficulty of getting an autistic child to wear shoes are sensory sensitivities and the impact they have on the child's behavior.

Why Getting an Autistic Child to Wear Shoes Can Be Difficult?

For autistic children, the act of wearing shoes may present challenges that differ from those experienced by neurotypical children. Some of the reasons why getting an autistic child to wear shoes can be difficult include:

  1. Sensory sensitivities: Autistic children may have heightened sensitivity to various sensory stimuli. The feeling of wearing shoes, with their different textures, pressure on the feet, and confinement, can be overwhelming and uncomfortable for them.
  2. Difficulty with transitions: Transitioning from bare feet to wearing shoes can be particularly challenging for autistic children. The change in sensation and the need to adjust to the new feeling of shoes can cause resistance and anxiety.
  3. Rigid routines and preferences: Autistic children often prefer routines and may have strong preferences for certain clothing or accessories. If shoes disrupt their established routines or are not aligned with their preferences, they may resist wearing them.
  4. Communication and social challenges: Autistic children may have difficulties expressing their discomfort or distress verbally. Their limited communication skills can make it harder for them to convey their feelings about wearing shoes, leading to behavioral challenges.

The Impact of Sensory Sensitivities

Sensory sensitivities play a significant role in the difficulties experienced by autistic children when it comes to wearing shoes. These sensitivities can be related to various aspects of shoe-wearing, including:

Sensory Sensitivity Impact on Shoe-Wearing
Texture Autistic children may be sensitive to the texture of shoes, finding certain materials or fabrics uncomfortable or irritating.
Pressure The pressure exerted by shoes on the feet can be overwhelming for some autistic children. They may feel discomfort or experience sensory overload due to the sensation of the shoes on their feet.
Tightness The feeling of confinement caused by tight-fitting shoes can trigger anxiety and resistance in autistic children. They may struggle to tolerate the sensation of their feet being enclosed.
Laces or Straps Autistic children may find the process of tying shoelaces or adjusting straps challenging due to fine motor difficulties or sensory sensitivities to touch. This can lead to frustration and refusal to wear shoes with these closures.

Understanding the challenges associated with sensory sensitivities can help parents and caregivers develop effective strategies to address their child's resistance to wearing shoes. By considering these factors and implementing appropriate techniques, parents can help their autistic children overcome these challenges and develop a more positive association with wearing shoes.

Tips for Getting Your Autistic Child to Wear Shoes

When it comes to getting an autistic child to wear shoes, it can often be a challenging task. However, with the right strategies and techniques, it is possible to help your child build a positive association with shoes and overcome sensory sensitivities. Here are some helpful tips:

Building a Positive Association with Shoes

Building a positive association with shoes can go a long way in encouraging your child to wear them. Here are a few strategies to consider:

  • Make shoes a part of their routine: Incorporate putting on shoes as a regular part of your child's daily activities, such as before going outside or leaving the house. This consistency can help establish a sense of familiarity and routine.
  • Create a sensory-friendly shoe experience: Take into account your child's sensory preferences. If they are sensitive to certain textures or materials, try different shoe options until you find one that they are comfortable with. Additionally, consider using sensory-friendly insoles or socks to enhance comfort.
  • Use positive reinforcement: Praise and reward your child when they are willing to put on their shoes. This positive reinforcement can help create a positive association with the act of wearing shoes.

Gradual Exposure and Desensitization Techniques

For some autistic children, the process of wearing shoes may be overwhelming due to sensory sensitivities. Gradual exposure and desensitization techniques can help ease them into the experience. Consider the following approaches:

  • Start with short periods of wearing shoes: Begin by having your child wear shoes for a few minutes at a time and gradually increase the duration as they become more comfortable.
  • Introduce different textures gradually: If your child is sensitive to the texture of shoes, try introducing different textures gradually. Start with socks or soft slippers before transitioning to shoes.
  • Incorporate desensitization activities: Engage your child in sensory activities that involve touching or interacting with shoes in a non-threatening way. This can help desensitize them to the sensory aspects of wearing shoes.

Using Visual Supports and Social Stories

Visual supports and social stories can be effective tools in helping autistic children understand and navigate new experiences. Consider the following strategies:

  • Create a visual schedule: Use visual supports, such as a visual schedule or picture prompts, to help your child understand the steps involved in putting on shoes. This visual guidance can provide them with a clear structure and reduce anxiety.
  • Develop a social story: Create a personalized social story that describes the importance of wearing shoes, the benefits, and the process involved. Use simple language and visuals to help your child understand and feel more comfortable with the concept.

Remember, every child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It's important to observe and understand your child's specific needs and preferences. By implementing these tips and techniques, you can help your autistic child gradually develop the skills and comfort necessary for wearing shoes.

Choosing the Right Shoes

When it comes to getting an autistic child to wear shoes, selecting the right pair can make a significant difference in their comfort and willingness to keep them on. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when choosing shoes for your child.

Comfort and Fit Considerations

Comfort is key when it comes to getting an autistic child to wear shoes. Pay attention to the following fit considerations:

  • Size: Ensure that the shoes are the correct size for your child's feet. Ill-fitting shoes can cause discomfort and make it more challenging for them to tolerate wearing them.
  • Width: Some autistic individuals may have wider feet. Look for shoes that provide enough room in the toe area and accommodate wider feet if necessary.
  • Cushioning and Support: Opt for shoes with adequate cushioning and arch support to provide comfort and stability. This can help reduce sensory discomfort and make the shoes more tolerable.
  • Breathability: Consider shoes made from breathable materials to prevent excessive sweating and discomfort caused by moisture buildup.

Exploring Different Shoe Styles

Different shoe styles may have varying levels of comfort and sensory appeal for autistic children. It's important to consider their preferences and sensory sensitivities when exploring different options. Here are some shoe styles to consider:

  • Sneakers: Sneakers are generally a popular choice due to their comfort, support, and versatility. Look for sneakers with soft and flexible uppers, cushioned soles, and adjustable closures.
  • Sandals: For warmer weather, sandals with adjustable straps can offer a more open and breathable option. Ensure that the sandals provide adequate support and do not cause discomfort due to rubbing or chafing.
  • Slip-On Shoes: Slip-on shoes can be a convenient option for children who struggle with fastening closures. Look for slip-on shoes with stretchy or elasticized openings for easy wearing.

Velcro vs. Laces: Finding the Right Closure

Choosing the right closure method can significantly impact your child's ability to independently put on and take off their shoes. Consider the following options:

Closure Type Advantages Considerations
Velcro Easy to fasten and adjust, ideal for children who have difficulty with fine motor skills or tying laces. May wear out over time and require replacement.
Elastic Laces Allow for a secure fit while eliminating the need for tying laces. May require adjustment to achieve the desired level of tightness.
Toggle Closure Offers a secure fit and easy adjustability. May take some practice to master the toggling mechanism.
Slip-On Convenient and time-saving, suitable for children who struggle with closures. May not provide the same level of adjustability and support as other closure methods.

By considering the comfort, fit, shoe style, and closure method that works best for your child, you can increase their chances of wearing and keeping their shoes on. Remember to involve them in the decision-making process, considering their sensory sensitivities and preferences.

Strategies for Shoe Success

When it comes to helping your autistic child wear shoes, implementing effective strategies can make a significant difference. By employing the right techniques, you can increase the chances of success and promote independence. Here are three strategies that can help you achieve shoe success with your autistic child.

Establishing a Routine

Establishing a consistent routine can provide structure and predictability for your child, making the process of wearing shoes more manageable. Incorporate putting on and taking off shoes into your child's daily schedule, such as during morning and bedtime routines or before going outside. By consistently following the same steps, your child will become accustomed to the routine, making it easier for them to cooperate.

Example Shoe Routine

1. Sit on a designated spot

2. Take off current shoes

3. Put on socks

4. Put on shoes

5. Tie or fasten shoes

6. Stand up and check comfort

7. Proceed with the day's activities

Offering Choices and Control

Autistic children often respond positively when given a sense of control and ownership. Offer your child choices related to their shoes, such as selecting the pair they want to wear or deciding between Velcro or laces. By involving them in the decision-making process, they will feel more empowered and motivated to wear their chosen shoes.

Shoe Choices

  • Letting the child choose the shoe color
  • Allowing the child to pick between different shoe styles
  • Giving the child the option to choose between Velcro or laces

Rewards and Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement can be a powerful tool in encouraging your autistic child to wear shoes. Create a system where your child earns rewards or praise for successfully wearing their shoes for a specified period or completing the shoe-wearing routine. Rewards could include small treats, extra playtime, or stickers on a reward chart.

Example Rewards System

1. Child wears shoes for 5 minutes: Reward with a sticker

2. Child wears shoes for 15 minutes: Reward with a small treat

3. Child wears shoes for 30 minutes: Reward with extra playtime

Remember, every child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Be patient, flexible, and open to trying different strategies to find the ones that resonate with your child. Celebrate every small step of progress and seek support from professionals, such as occupational therapists or behavior analysts, who can provide personalized guidance tailored to your child's specific needs.

Seeking Professional Help

When it comes to getting an autistic child to wear shoes, seeking professional help can be beneficial in addressing the unique challenges and finding effective strategies. Here are three professionals who can provide valuable support:

Consulting Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists play a crucial role in assisting children with sensory sensitivities and motor skills difficulties. They can provide comprehensive assessments to identify the underlying factors contributing to shoe aversion and develop targeted interventions. Occupational therapists may focus on sensory integration techniques, such as desensitization exercises and sensory-based activities, to help the child become more comfortable with wearing shoes.

Working with Behavior Analysts

Behavior analysts specialize in understanding behavior patterns and developing behavior modification strategies. They can assess the specific behaviors related to shoe-wearing challenges and design individualized behavior plans. Behavior analysts may use techniques such as positive reinforcement, shaping, and visual schedules to encourage the child's cooperation and build positive associations with wearing shoes.

Collaborating with the Child's Support Team

Collaboration with the child's support team, including teachers, therapists, and caregivers, is crucial for a comprehensive approach to addressing shoe-wearing difficulties. By sharing information and strategies, the support team can work together to develop consistent routines and implement interventions across different environments. Regular communication and collaboration among team members ensure a holistic approach to support the child's needs.

It's important to remember that seeking professional help does not imply a lack of parental ability or effort. Professionals have specialized knowledge and experience that can significantly contribute to finding effective solutions tailored to the child's specific needs. By leveraging the expertise of occupational therapists, behavior analysts, and the child's support team, parents can access valuable guidance and support on their journey to help their autistic child wear shoes comfortably.


My child still refuses to wear shoes even after trying these strategies. What should I do?

It's important to remember that every child is different, and some may require more time and patience than others. If your child is still struggling with wearing shoes, it may be helpful to consult with a healthcare professional or occupational therapist who can provide more specialized guidance.

Are there any specific types of shoes that work best for autistic children?

Every child is unique, so it's important to find shoes that fit your child's individual needs and preferences. However, some parents have found success with shoes that have stretchy laces or Velcro closures, as they can be easier for children to put on themselves.

How often should I reward my child for wearing shoes?

This will depend on your child's individual needs and progress. In the beginning, you may need to offer rewards more frequently to encourage your child. As they become more comfortable with wearing shoes, you can gradually decrease the frequency of rewards.

My child only wants to wear one specific pair of shoes. Is this okay?

It's not uncommon for autistic children to prefer routine and consistency in their clothing choices. If your child feels most comfortable in one particular pair of shoes, it may be best to let them wear those as often as possible while still encouraging them to try other pairs occasionally.

Should I force my child to wear shoes if they really don't want to?

It's important not to force your child into anything that causes them distress or discomfort. Instead, try different strategies such as offering rewards or finding more comfortable shoe options until you find a solution that works for both you and your child.


Getting an autistic child to keep their shoes on can be a challenge, but it's not impossible. By understanding their sensory issues, using visual aids, offering rewards, and practicing patience, you can help your child feel more comfortable and confident wearing shoes.

Remember to keep a positive attitude and celebrate your child's progress along the way. With time and patience, your child can learn to wear shoes comfortably and confidently.


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