17 Tips For Finding the Right Shoes for your child with special needs
The wrong pair of shoes can create a day of misery for anyone. When special needs are added to the mix, the right pair of shoes can become elusive. Increased foot discomfort is associated with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), use of an Ankle-Foot Orthosis (AFO), feet of different shapes or sizes, and medical conditions such as diabetes or edema. Certain features in shoes can reduce that discomfort.
Making Shoes More Comfortable
Of course, 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.
Shoes that work with an Ankle-Foot Orthosis (AFO)
Many people who wear AFOs buy shoes a few sizes larger than their feet so that the AFO can fit inside the shoe. Although the shoe is wide enough, it is usually too long, and that makes walking difficult. Shoes that are customized for AFOs eliminate this irregularity.
1. Keeping Pace Orthopedic Footwear
Keeping Pace Orthopedic Footwear was the first company to make shoes designed to be worn with AFOs from toddler size 4 through adult size 10. A pair of shoes may cost between $64 and $85. The company was started by a mother of a child with cerebral palsy who was frustrated that her son’s new shoes were the wrong size for his braces.
2. Hatchbacks FootwearHatchbacks Footwear are easy-on, easy-off shoes for children (toddler size 5 through youth size 3) that fit over AFOs. All of the styles have velcro closures and cost $70.
Orthotic-Friendly and Post-Op shoes
A few shops specialize in therapeutic shoes for a variety of medical conditions. Although the shoes may not be designed specifically for AFOs, the material is stretchy enough to accommodate custom orthotics.
1. The Healthy Feet Store
The Healthy Feet Store actually has an index of medical conditions for which their shoes are designed, including pediatric post-operative shoes and Answer2 sneakers for custom orthotics. The store is also a good resource for foot health products and specialized socks.
FootSmart.com specializes in orthopedic and therapeutic shoes for adults, as well as foot health. Some styles accommodate custom orthotics and most styles have velcro closures, which can be difficult to find in adult sizes. The store also offers a variety of sock styles for adults with sensitive feet.
3. Shoby Shoes
Shoby shoes are custom-made orthopedic shoes for children that can be made to work with custom orthotics or to be used as an alternative to orthoses. Because each pair of shoes is made according to the precise measurements of each customer, the orders take a few weeks to process.
4. Silvert's Shoes
Silvert’s has adaptive footwear for adults, including adults with limited mobility. All of the styles are easy-on, easy off with velcro closures.
5. Buck and Buck
Buck and Buck offers adaptive footwear to simplify the process fo getting dressed and undressed. The shoes are specially designed with a stretchy material for edema and other types of swelling.
Highly sensitive individuals often stick with a specific brand and style of shoe...assuming they can find one that is comfortable and supportive. Five stores and brands come up in conversation every time I ask families of children with special needs about their favorite shoes.
1. Keen Footwear
Keen Footwear is designed for an active lifestyle and comes in infant sizes all the way up to men’s size 17 (but only up to size 12 for women). Most Keen enthusiasts say that they like the supportive feeling of the shoe, but the shoe is flexible and not stiff.
2. Stride Rite
Stride Rite has stores across the USA and Canada, and its brand is sold widely in other shops, too. Stride Rite is one of the only brands that sells children’s shoes in medium, wide and extra wide from newborn through youth size 6. The store also has its own line of “comfort seam” socks that are tight-fitting and minimize discomfort. If you bring in an old pair of shoes to donate to charity, you will receive 20% off your purchase.
3. Pediped Shoes
Pediped shoes come in newborn size up to youth size 4.5. The shoes were created for early walkers and to support children’s natural movement with eco-friendly materials.
4. Tsukihoshi Shoes
Tsukihoshi shoes from Japan are popular among children with autism because of their comfort, flexibility and bright colors. The shoes are machine washable and come in toddler size 4 up to youth size 5.5. Most styles have stretchy laces that don’t have to be tied, so they’re ideal for active children with fine motor delays.
The shoe department at Nordstrom department store is the shop of choice for many individuals with special needs. Why? Well, for one thing, there’s no extra charge if your feet are 2 different sizes - you simply get a pair of shoes that fit your unique feet. The return policy is generous, in case your sensitive feet decide those shoes don’t fit correctly after all. No appointment is necessary, and the emphasis on customer service means that the salesperson will go the extra mile to find the right shoes for you - and that’s what this is all about.
Where do you find your favorite shoes?
Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"