Sensory processing affects everything we do. From movement and learning on down to the tiniest snaps and buttons that adorn our clothing. Many times, children with problems with sensory processing skills have difficulty with manipulating clothing fasteners.
Here, you will find sensory-related issues that may impact a child’s ability to fasten and manipulate clothing fasteners, strategies that can help with independence in addressing sensory processing issues, and sensory-friendly clothing fastener solutions.
Clothing fasteners and sensory processing issues can affect buttons, snaps, buckles, and zippers.
Clothing Fasteners and Sensory Issues
Today in the Functional Skills for Kids series, ten Occupational Therapist and Physical Therapist bloggers are sharing everything there is to know about manipulating buttons, snaps, zippers, and buckles.
The child with sensory processing issues may experience patterns of behavior related to many skills needed for managing clothing fasteners. In turn, a difficulty in movement, reactions, balance, and posture can interfere with managing buttons, zippers, snaps, and buckles. Clumsy fine motor skills may present during manipulation of clothing fasteners.
There are many other issues that present with sensory processing problems that may present during management of clothing fasteners:
Vestibular Sensory and clothing fasteners:
Poor bilateral coordination– Children with poor sensory processing often times present with bilateral coordination difficulties. Gross motor tasks and coordinated use of the hands in fine motor tasks at midline appear to be clumsy. Managing buttons, snaps, and zippers are difficult when asking these children to use their hands together. Tasks such as buttoning and zipping require one hand to perform a precision task while the other hand assists. These types of skills challenge the child with poor bilateral coordination. While children with poor bilateral coordination may not have a clear established dominant hand, it can be difficult to manipulate buttons when one hand is not defined as the “skilled” hand.
Difficulty with movement– Children with unmet sensory needs can present as fidgety and uncoordinated, making clothing fastener management quite difficult.
Low Muscle Tone– Children with sensory processing difficulties quite often present with low tone. Weakness in the arms, shoulder girdle, and core can prompt the child to stabilize on table surfaces or with accommodating positioning. These issues along with tone and strength weaknesses in the hands then prevents the child from manipulating clothing fasteners or enduring the length of a buttoning/zippering/etc task. Fatigue can limit training sessions or prevent the child from completing clothing fastener tasks in an efficient manner
Poor motor planning (dyspraxia)– A vestibular dysfunction can result in poor motor planning with the child having trouble in planning out the sequence of buttoning and unbuttoning clothing, or engaging a zipper into the chamber, then pulling up the pull. It can be difficult for these children to generalize what they have practice on a dressing board to clothing on the body. Likewise, generalizing skills they have practiced with one sweater (and one size buttons/clothing material/ button hole opening/etc) to another sweater or one zipper to another zipper can be difficult.
Proprioceptive Issues and clothing fasteners:
Seek sensory feedback– Children who present with proprioceptive dysfunction may seek out sensory feedback. Snaps or zippers can be a source of sensory feedback in an inefficient manner.
Inefficient body awareness– See below.
Inefficient grading of movement– Managing clothing fasteners can be difficult for the child who has trouble grading the amount of movement needed for positioning their arms and maintaining position while fastening clothing. These children might grip the zipper pull too lightly or too tightly making fastening a zipper difficult. Buttons might pull off of clothing when the child with grading issues attempts to button or unbutton clothing.
Poor motor planning (dyspraxia)– See below
Tactile Sensory Needs and clothing fasteners:
Hypersensitive to touch (Tactile Defensiveness)– The child with tactile defensiveness may have trouble manipulating clothing fasteners. Certain clothing materials can be offensive to children with tactile defensiveness. The texture of a zipper or Velcro can cause an adverse reaction. Stiff collars or zippers, belts, and rough clothing textures and fasteners can cause a negative reaction from the child who is hypersensitive to touch. These children may prefer clothing without fasteners or refuse to wear coats or jackets with these offensive fasteners.
Hyposensitivity or an under-responsiveness to touch– The child with hyposensitivity to touch may present during an attempt to complete clothing fasteners. These children may fail to realize that they have omitted buttons or snaps on their clothing.
Poor tactile discrimination– Children who have difficulty with discriminating touch have difficulty manipulating items and using their hands without looking at what their hands are doing. These children may be unable to perform the steps of buttoning and unbuttoning, zippering, and snapping clothing fasteners without visual cues. They might perform these tasks in peculiar manners with inefficient grasps. These children may seem to touch their clothing fasteners excessively, such as run their fingers up and down the zipper. They enjoy the sensory feedback from running their hands over clothing fasteners.
Poor tactile perception– The child with poor tactile perception will have trouble with perceiving the location of button holes without visually looking at the fasteners. They will have trouble identifying the two sides of a zipper by touch.
Poor body awareness– Children with sensory processing issues often times have trouble with body awareness. They have difficulty knowing where their body is in space and how to move it in order to perform tasks. Moving the arms in order to perform fine motor tasks such as buttoning and unbuttoning a sweater can be quite difficult.
Poor motor planning (dyspraxia)– Sensory processing issues may present with resulting dyspraxia or motor planning difficulties. These kids have trouble organizing and following through with the movement needed to perform tasks such as buttoning and zippering. These children will have trouble with precision of fine motor manipulation, making engaging a zipper and buttoning and unbuttoning very difficult.
Visual Spatial Processing and clothing fasteners:
Difficulty seeing with eyes working as a “team”, particularly when managing fasteners on the body.
Difficulty shifting gaze from different planes when managing fasteners on the body.
Confuse or mis-align buttons to button holes. May present with increased difficulty when managing buttons on the body.
Difficulty with sequential tasks in buttoning or zipper management.
Looking at all of these different areas, it is easy to see why the child with sensory processing issues has trouble with managing clothing fasteners!
Many children have several of the above issues that present as a result of sensory concerns. Bilateral coordination or low tone concerns may be accompanied by evidence of poor sensory processing. Observations of issues described above may be part of the explanation for difficulty with fine motor manipulation, but it is important to note that every child is different and what is described here may not be the entire story. Strategies and descriptions here will not explain every issue with clothing fasteners when sensory issues are present.
So, what is to be done to help kids with building independence and carrying over skills to allow kids to independently managing buttons, zippers, snaps, and buckles on their clothing?
RELATED READ: Zipper Activities for Kids
Sensory Strategies for clothing fasteners:
Some children with tactile discrimination difficulties have trouble processing the the spatial or temporal information gathered through touch during tasks such as managing clothing fasteners. Intervention for tactile dysfunction can be done along with intervention for dyspraxia. Deep pressure, activities that provide tactile sensation with temporal and spatial qualities, brushing the skin, using vibrating stimulation to the skin, and tactile play activities can help with discrimination needed for clothing fasteners.
Sensory needs may benefit from heavy input through the hands, strengthening, positioning, visual and verbal cues, practicing fastener management on the body, and practicing fasteners while seated or standing.
Sensory Strategies to Help Kids with Clothing Fasteners
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Provide vibrating tactile sensory input with this Orbeez foot spa. Typically, this toy is used with water beads for a sensory play activity. We filled ours with crafting pom poms in various sizes and textures. The vibrating bottom provides a vibratory tactile sensation, which is perfect for the hands. We explored the textures of the crafting pom poms as the foot spa vibrated and shook the pom poms. Add additional components to this activity with small hidden toys that allow for visual discrimination, tactile perception, and awareness of body movements.
More sensory strategies that can help with independence in clothing fasteners:
- A weighted weighted blanket can be a source of heavy input for proprioception needs.
- Dress your child in layers that provide deep sensory input. Try a fitted short or long sleeve shirt under clothing.
- Outline the button holes with a dark color thread or marker for easy visual perception.
- Deep pressure through the hands is a technique that sometimes helps when manipulating clothing fasteners. Try using fingerless gloves in stretch material when practicing clothing fasteners. The fingers are able to manipulate the buttons or zippers and the hand and joints receive deep pressure and warmth.
As an Occupational Therapist, function is the number one goal for working with clients. Whether in the school, clinic, acute setting, or home, all goals of an Occupational Therapist revolve and are based on functional skills.
One thing about occupational therapy professionals is that we love to be creative. I love to use my experience and knowledge to come up with creative ways to meet common goal areas. Take a look around this site and you will find everything from DIY pencil grips to a “egg-cellent” way to work on shoe tying.
Be sure to check out this massive shoe tying resource, too.
This is the place where you will find all of activities designed to promote functional skills of kids. From handwriting to scissor skills, to dressing, and self-care: click around to find a lot of ideas to build independence, adapt, accommodate, and modify functional skills.
Functional Skills for Kids and Childhood Independence
Functional Skills for Kids series by Occupational Therapist and Physical Therapist bloggers
Handwriting Functional Skills
Toys to Help Kids Learn to Dress Themselves
Kids Cooking Tasks
You’ll love these resources on helping kids thrive in all aspects of theri occupational performance:
Teach Kids Buttoning Skills with a DIY dressing board
(we received ours from www.craftprojectideas.com)
in an “x”. This is a great real-life skill activity for older kids. Threading a the large needle is a nice fine motor task and the project is so simple that it’s a great beginner sewing activity for kids.
. After cutting the holes with scissors, my preschooler practiced pulling the foam buttons through the holes. Using paper to practice is a real workout for little fingers as the paper will tear with too much force. The point for this part of the activity is to practice pushing the button through the hole and pulling it out. The paper is a great reminder that the button slides through the button hole easily when both hands are working together in a coordinated manner.
button holes just a bit longer than you think you need to for kids who are working on buttoning skills. You can also cut the hole wider for easier buttoning. This is one way to grade the activity for kids who need help learning how to button their clothes.
- Lay the fabric on the child’s lap as a beginner task. This is a good way for the child to see what they are doing as their hands are working together on the buttons.
- NEXT, lay the fabric on the child’s lap, BUT position it so that it would be if the child were buttoning a coat on their body. Make sure the buttons are on the child’s lap and not on their truck for easier accessibility and success.
- THEN, position the buttoning activity up higher on the child’s trunk to simulate buttoning a shirt or coat on the child.
- Finally, move on to teaching buttoning with real-life articles of clothing.
Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before a child can use fine motor tools (hair brush, toothbrush, pencil, spoon, fork, knife, scissors…) independently, there are certain physical, cognitive, and emotional prerequisites that must fall into place.
“I do it MYSELF!”
It’s something that every Toddler has said. Or yelled. At the top of their lungs.
As Mom, you might be patiently waiting for your little one to finish buckling their seat belt on their own, so happy that they are finally showing independence and an ability to take care of one small act during their day.
Or, you might be toe-tapping, leg-jiggling frustrated as you wait for the thousandth time as they try to button up their coat and the seconds click by toward lateness for an appointment.
Either way, independence in Toddler-dom typically is a natural development of self-awareness and self-control. A child becomes more aware of the skills that they are developing and that they can assert their own independence.
But, before these areas of independence arise, there are certain prerequisites that need to be in place. Using tools in self-feeding, brushing one’s own teeth, using a knife, crayon, pencil, or other tool requires development in a few areas.
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Prerequisites needed for using a fork, spoon, toothbrush, hair brush, pencil, and other fine motor tools:
- Posture- When using a tool like a fork, pencil, scissors, toothbrush, paint brush, knife…postural control is essential. Like anything else, it all starts at the center and at the body. You can’s use your hands in fine motor play activities if your upper body is slumped or slouched. If postural support is the issue, work on getting into a better sitting position. Speak to an Occupational Therapist for individualized assessment and recommendations.
- For using tools, a child needs prehension of grasp, including grasp, release, and the ability to stabilize their arm and write while moving the hand. Sometimes a pinch or required muscle movement is too much for an unstable arm/wrist and that required muscle effort makes the upper body slouch. Start over with posturing is this happens.
- Hand dominance. A true hand dominance doesn’t typically become established until 5-6 years. And that is a good thing! A child’s body is developing strength, balance, muscle tone, and sensorimotor abilities at an even and symmetrical rate in the early years. We want that to happen! If a very strong preference of dominance is noticed at an early age, ask your pediatrician or occupational therapist for assessment of asymmetry or delay.
- Cognitive prerequisites– Appropriate ability to follow simple directions is a must in order for use of tools in typical ways. Sure, a fork makes a great hair brush. A spoon is an excellent drumstick. But, inappropriate use of utensils can be dangerous.
- Attentional Prerequisites– Appropriate attention span is needed for using tools in functional tasks.
- Constructive play– What? A child needs to play in order to use a pencil? Yep! Building with blocks, combining toys, and pretending provides the base of fine motor development, skilled use, strength, imagination, and creativity that is needed to problem solve and use tools appropriately.
- Eye Hand Coordination– More play! Catch a ball and use crayons to establish the base of hand eye coordination needed for skilled maneuvering of tools to the mouth, paper, hair, or teeth.
- Somatosensory Experience– Playing and experiencing the senses in typical every day activities are essential for the child to build on their awareness of textures, weights, manipulating objects, and sizes.
Practice Scooping and Tool Use in Fun Ways
Provide opportunities to use tools like spoons in scooping items. These black beans are a great way to practice tool use and all of the skills needed in managing tools. See the bottom of this post for more ideas.
Learning Resources Handy Scoopers are colorful and bright and a great way to practice the prerequisites for tool use in many ways.
Teaching children to get dressed on their own can be a tricky subject. Kids do many milestones at different ages and teaching independence skills can be frustrating. Teaching kids to get dressed depends on many small splinter skills that make up the end result of clothing on, fasteners done, and child ready to go for the day. Learning to get dressed takes time and it depends on the development of fine and gross motor skills, visual-motor skills, and even self-confidence. Children may reach some milestones ahead of “schedule” and require more time or practice to reach others. It is important to remember that every child is different.
We are sharing some approximate self-care milestones in dressing for kids and toys that can help with this skill.
Childhood Milestones for Getting Dressed
One year old:
- Takes off socks
- Helps with pushing arms through sleeves
- Removes shoes
- Helps with pushing down pants
- Helps with pulling on socks
- Pushes arms through sleeves once shirt is over head
- Removes hats
- Assists with pants by pushing legs into pants
- Unbuttons large buttons
- Attempts buttons
- Able to pull on an open front shirt or jacket with assistance
- Removes open front shirt/coat (without fasteners)
- Puts socks and shoes on
- Able to pull on a shirt correclty
- Able to put on shoes (may be wrong feet)
- Able to put on socks (may be incorrectly oriented)
- Able to pull up a zipper if engaged
- Able to button large buttons
- Able to unzip a jacket
- Able to unbuckle a buckle
- Able to pull shirt on and orient clothing (front to back correctly)
- Takes off shirt and pants
- Buttons coat or shirt
- Able to put socks on with correct orientation
- Able to intiiate zipper by inserting one side into the zipper carriage
- Put shoes on correct feet
- Dresses independently
- Zips/unzips independently
- Ties shoes
- Chooses clothing appropriate to the weather
Toys for helping kids learn to get dressed:
When a child needs to work on some skills for their independence, toys can be the way to go! These toys are great for developing independence in dressing skills. This post contains affiliate links. See our full disclosure here.
Small World Toys Learning – Before and After is great for kids who need to gain insight into concepts of before and after. You can not put your shoes on before you put your socks on. Cognitive concepts can be tricky for children to understand if auditory processing of these ideas are difficult.
Books about learning to get dressed:
“Ella Sarah Gets Dressed” is a fun book to read for getting dressed ideas.
Toys to work on clothing fasteners:
Working on buttons, snaps, and other fasteners is great for practicing on boards, books, and dolls. However, it is often difficult for children to relate the skills they learn on these tools to real clothing that is ON their bodies. Manipulating clothing and fasteners is actually OPPOSITE movement patterns when fastening these same fasteners on the body verses on a board or doll that the child is looking at. This Special Needs Sensory Activity Apron (Children & Adult Sizes) solves that issue as the child can manage the clothing fasteners right on their lap. This is so great for children with motor planning difficulties. You cold also use a Montessori Buttoning Frame with Large Buttons Dressing Frame and lay it right on the child’s lap.
Childrens Factory Manual Dexterity Vests – Button-Zipper Combo Vest is a good way to practice buttons and zippers right on the child.
Sometimes managing a zipper can be difficult because grasping the zipper is ineffective or clumsy. A large zipper pull can make managing the zipper on clothing or a backpack much easier.
These 4 pcs Large Flowers Zipper Pull / Zip pull Charms for Jacket Backpack Bag Pendant are great for flower lovers, or maybe your child would rather have cool toy story zipper pulls.
More fine motor practice can be done with the Buckle Toy “Bentley” Caterpillar. I actually love this for the Toddler age set who LOVE to buckle car seats, high chairs, and all things buckles. This cute little caterpillar also works on numbers for pre-math learning, too.
Practice basic clothing fastener skills like buttons, zippers, snaps, and ties with the Melissa & Doug Basic Skills Board. The bright colors are fun and will get little fingers moving on clothing fasteners. Learning to Get Dressed Monkey is a fun toy for clothing fasteners.
Responsibility Chart for Getting Dressed:
I Can Do It! Reward and Responsibility Chart is a great idea for kids that need a little motivation to be independent. Making the morning routine smoother can make a big difference in independence. Older kids may benefit from this chart for self-confidence or working on responsibilities.
Shoe Tying Gifts:
Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wood Lacing Sneaker is a fun toy for shoe tying practice. The big, chunky shoe makes it fun. Sometimes different colored shoe laces help when a child is learning to tie shoes. I love these Easy Tie Shoelaces that come in two different colors.