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Wondering if compression clothing for special needs is for you?

Wondering if compression clothing for special needs is for you?

When your child won’t tolerate even the touch of fabric against their skin and compression clothing is recommended, it’s no surprise parents find it hard to believe it might be a success.

Founder, Mel's personal experience with compression clothing for her special needs son

"My son has always had severe Sensory Processing Difficulties. He has never been able to stand seams, labels, or anything touching his skin, his preferred clothing is to be naked if possible.  So, when compression was suggested, I thought "no chance!" - I was in for a big surprise... 

I read about compression and discussed it with our OT but I didn’t really believe it could work for us – if I couldn’t get his foot into a soft sock, how on earth would I squeeze him into something tight?  I felt defeated by the idea alone!  What I didn’t realise at the time was that at the times when he was balancing himself in odd positions over furniture, or leaning his tummy onto our shoulders/knees, or squeezing himself under his mattress, or other things that seemed a little ‘unique’ he was actually seeking different ways to create deep pressure for himself.  The subject of compression kept coming up, I considered it each time, but still it didn’t feel like it was for us.  So, what made the difference?  

We were offered a specialist SEN charity surfing day. I didn't think he would even set foot on the sand if I’m honest, let alone put on a wetsuit, but it would give me a chance to perhaps catch up with other parents.  My previous experience of these types of events usually turned out that I spent the whole time of the event running around after my son, and rarely got to stop for a cup of tea or a chat.  If anything, these groups often made me feel even more marginalised because I was still feeling like the unusual one, even in SEN playgroups.  However, I was going stir crazy and feeling trapped indoors, so the opportunity to be with other people who might at least not judge me for running off mid sentence and having apparently no control at all over my child was appealing.

When we arrived the wetsuits were hanging wet and sandy from the previous class. My heart sank, there was NO WAY he was going to put one of those on, but blow me down, to my incredulous surprise he did, and then he had a fantastic surfing lesson too. I can’t even describe the joy of seeing him out on the waves hooting and stimming his hands with excitement.  He was really focused and happy, and then didn't seem to want to take the wetsuit off at the end. A little light bulb went off in my head - if he liked the tight wetsuit so much, perhaps I should be trying compression clothing on him after all.  That set us off on a new flurry of activity.  We experimented with all the different grades of compression, and found them invaluable. The different types helped him with different things. 

How does compression clothing work?

In a nutshell (and our OT would explain this SO much better than me,) due to his sensory processing challenges, the feedback from his joint receptors to his brain is patchy at best, probably non-existent. 

In layman's terms what this means can be explained like this; if you close your eyes, you know which way up you are, and you know where your limbs are. You just do. This is because of tiny receptors sending messages from all your main joints in your body. If you or your child has SPD or other neurological or physical differences, and those messages aren't getting through, when they close their eyes they can feel completely lost, as if they were falling through space. This is why so many of our kids have trouble settling to sleep at night, because it can literally be terrifying when they shut their eyes.  And because they don't realise this doesn't happen for everyone (why would they?!), very often they don't tell us, even if they are verbal. 

How compression clothing can help with sensory feedback 

Compression garments give steady unwavering contact against the skin. This means that the sensory feedback from the skin can 'fill in the gaps' in the transmission from the joint receptors and tell the brain where everything is - this helps the child to 'feel' where they are in space, bringing a feeling of security.  The deeper the hug, the more it can affect proprioception.  As a bonus there will also be an increased sense of calm. As with everything it will be unique to the individual and slow and steady exploration is required.

Compression and hug garments are now a part of his every day 'sensory diet.' He tended to choose to wear his SPIO (deep compression) suit before he had to stay still and focused for long periods, like when he was completing independent work in his bay at school. His compression clothing helps him to stay calmer, more secure and happier in himself.  He likes light to medium compression clothing during day and night.  We gave a lot more options for compression at night – bed sock, weighted blanket etc and that did help as part of his sleep resources – he stopped squeezing himself under his mattress, which was a huge relief!

Confused with which compression clothing to try?

If you're not sure where to start, here's a handy guide to our favourite brands: 

  • Very light Compression
  • Skinnies – originally designed for those with skin conditions, these garments are totally seamless, lightweight & make a great alternative to base layers or pyjamas.

    Brubeck - these garments do have comfort seams but again, are super comfortable and give a light sensation against the skin.

  • Light to Medium Compression 
  • SmartKnitKids - Compresso-T vests and Bralettes are woven to be completely seamless and fit like a magic glove

    • Medium to Firm Compression 

    Calming Clothing - these clothes give medium to firm compression. These have a high cotton content and some comfort seaming. Much loved by many sensory seekers!

    All day hug tees are very popular - these tops do have seams but have been adapted for comfort. They are nice and long, to help get input all over the bottom of the trunk area too.

  • Deep Compression
  • Spio - the firmest compression comes from the dynamic Spio suits. These firm grade garments also give extra core stability for kids who might be struggling with posture or sitting position.

    Remember that it's best to have a chat with your OT about what they recommend for your sensitive child's individual sensory diet. But don't be afraid to try compression - You may have a wonderful surprise!


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