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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

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.

Shopping for ShoesAllow 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 Footwear
Hatchbacks 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.

2. FootSmart 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.

Sensory-Friendly shoes

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.

5. Nordstroms
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

Written on September 17, 2014 by:

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"
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  • Kristen

    Converse makes a shoe with a fold-back heel counter that velcros when you re-attach it. Many of my patients now use them with AFO’s because of how easy they are to get on and off. Not recommended for everyone, but it has made life a bit easier for some families (and they look cool).

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  • Brigita

    I don’t think that you must be very careful choosing shoes for kids, because they were them just few times, because of fats growing. I choose cheap kids shoes wholesale.

  • Brigita

    Pediped wholesale kids shoes are my favourite. Because shoes were created for early walkers and to support children’s natural movement with eco-friendly materials.

  • Yuri Grebennikov

    Memo shoes are flat inside it allows to wear different types of arch support inserts and they makes ankle-high styles with thermoplastic assymentic rigid heel counters whick are brace like. Recommended for those who need to wear AFOs. They produce sandals, boots, sneakers in classic style.

  • Kay

    Does any one know of shoe companies that make shoes for children (adult now age 23) with CP that don’t wear orthotics (did about 20 years ago), but they were so painful. After soldiering on everyday to school and life in general, another surgery, my son just threw his orthotics away. He’s been going without orthotics for years now, and yes, his feet don’t come down most of the time, but with the use of a reverse Kaye walker,, and crutches at times, he is still soldiering on every day. He is a year away from graduation to become an elementary school teacher. I have tried for years to find shoes that would work without orthotics, but have given up until recently when I heard Niki is making basketball shoes for kids with CP. My son does not play basketball, or any sports. He is an American History buff. So, back to my original question…thank you…Kay

  • Buy Happy Feet

    Booties look is great also children’s, women, men house shoes available on Shark Tank Specia.

  • Maurice Jacoby Barnes

    Has anyone delt with the rubber on the shoe mine wears down at the big toe, Orthotics help some but still it would be great it the was some the help save money in the long run .

  • Great tips with great post for finding the right shoes for children with special needs. I agree with you that you have been suggesting about . Thank you for the post, it is really very Informative.

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  • Abby Parker

    I completely agree with you Karen! Wrong pair of shoes can create a day of misery. In fact, unsupportive shoes may cause foot pain, foot injuries, and even plantar fasciitis. I usually stick to specific brand and style of shoes I love, but just realized comfortable and supportive shoes are a must! Going for perfect footwear will prevent foot problems and perhaps help to keep them from recurring in the future.


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