Sensory issues can effect every aspect of life for individuals with autism. Fortunately, the growing selection of shoe styles is providing more options for people who have tactile sensitivities in their feet.

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There is not always a predictable pattern to tactile sensitivities related to feet. Some people with autism cannot tolerate shoes while others cannot tolerate bare feet. One of my young friends with autism always took off his shoes, so we assumed he did not like the confinement of his shoes since he preferred loosely-fitted clothing. After five or six years, it finally became apparent that he was actually taking off his shoes in an attempt to communicate he wanted deep pressure on his feet. He was very happy when his parents bought him snug hiking boots fitted with textured liners.

Another youngster wore leather shoes or boots, but he had a bad habit of kicking other people who sat or stood too close. As he grew taller and stronger, his family bought him some soft-toed shoes to avoid injury. Interestingly, the kicking decreased dramatically. This change in behavior may have been because the youngster no longer experienced reactions from other people when he kicked.

The fashion for slip-on shoes has helped many individuals with autism who have poor perceptual motor skills. The clogs and slip-on shoes for men, women, boys, and girls have allowed many more people with autism to dress themselves more independently, decreasing their dependence on others for basic self-help tasks.

Some of my friends with autism like the security of snug socks and shoes. Some even want to wear their shoes to bed. Now, we may think that it is rather strange to wear shoes to bed, most parents have found it counter productive to try to talk them into going to bed barefooted. One strategy that works is to have a pair of “outside shoes” as well as a pair of clogs or other slip-on “home shoes” to wear around the house. Then our friends can slip on a clean pair of thick, snug socks after their bath to wear to bed. If they must have shoes on their feet in addition to the thick socks, they can wear some slippers or soft clogs for “bed shoes.” It is certainly easier to make some concessions in this area than to deal with conflict at bedtime every night.

We welcome your challenging situations related to shoes as well as any innovative solutions that have worked for you. Just click on the comments button or send a message to

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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