A Guide to Underwear For Individuals With Special Needs
Most of us don’t talk about underwear unless it becomes a problem. Specialized undergarments are often necessary for special needs. If underwear is a problem for you or someone you love, then be assured that you’re not alone: someone has already designed a solution. Here’s a sample of undergarments created to assist with special needs.
1. Ostomy Secrets
For adults and children with ostomy bags, the Ostomy Secrets waistband secures the bag in place with an inner pocket.
2. Tummy Tunnels
Tummy Tunnels are designed for children with g-tubes. Most parents cut a hole in the child’s clothing or lift up the child’s shirt for feeding, so the tunnel is designed to cover up the clothing hole and allow the child to be fed with more dignity and privacy. The tunnel is actually an iron-on patch with a small opening in the center for the tube.
3. Back Support
Some developmental disabilities and spinal conditions require extra back support. Specially designed undershirts for men and women like these at underworks.com apply gentle pressure to correct posture.
3. Compression Underwear
Compression underwear isn’t just for athletes. Individuals with sensory issues benefit from deep pressure all over the body to help with proprioception (body awareness). A few individuals may also need underpants that discourage fecal smearing, and there are full bodysuits for this purpose. Undershirts and underpants made from tight, stretchy fabric fit the bill for both situations.
4. Side opening and back-opening
Individuals who are unable to dress themselves need all types of easy-on, easy-off clothing, including undergarments. Undershirts with a velcro back opening can be put on without raising the arms, and underpants with a side opening can be put on without too much shifting. Adult-size onesies can also make dressing and undressing easier for a caregiver and a person with a disability. These items are available from shops such as silverts.com, adressingneeds.com and underwearfordisabled.co.uk.
Adults with incontinence often use disposable underwear, but cloth diapers with a waterproof lining are also an option. Adultclothdiaper.com specializes in hard-to-find sizes for older children and adults.
6. Sensory-friendly underwear
Individuals with sensory issues may have difficulty wearing any underwear at all. With my own children, I noticed that the right undershirt and underpants made all types of clothing more bearable. But how do you find the right underwear without spending a fortune?
By talking to other families and through my own trial and error, I found several choices that have worked well.
Girls who dislike underpants, but need to wear something for modesty, may enjoy a skirt with built-in shorts from landsend.com or shopjustice.com.
Tagless boxer briefs are the underpants of choice for highly sensitive children and adults because there is no elastic around the upper thigh. And yes, some girls insist that the boys’ underwear is much more comfortable for them than the underwear marketed for girls. Hanes Tagless boxer briefs have a covered elastic waistband and are widely available at discount stores. Old-fashioned boxers without tags, like these from Hanes, are the most loose style of underpants.
Some types of cotton are better for underwear than others. Hanna Andersson underwear is made from organic cotton and is noticeably softer than most other brands, but it has tags. Carters brand uses super-soft combed cotton and is tagless. The elastic around the thighs is covered, but the waistband is not. However, the waistband is stitched down so that it does not pinch, and it is very comfortable for my son.
Active people often prefer synthetic fabrics for comfort, smoothness and dryness. Hanes makes the X-Temp Performance Boxer to stay in place and remain cool and dry. This style is less tight than the compression underwear, but more supportive than cotton knit boxer briefs.
For even more sensory-friendly underwear options, also check out the Friendship Circle’s round-up of the best sensory-friendly shops for children with special needs here.
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"