Autism and Wearing Shoes: Tips to Make It Easier

Sensory processing issues, difficulty with fine motor skills, and other factors can make it tough to put on and keep on shoes. But with a few tips and tricks, you can make the process easier and more comfortable.

reuben kesherim
Published By Ruben Kesherim
December 3, 2023

Autism and Wearing Shoes: Tips to Make It Easier

Understanding Autism and Sensory Processing

Autism is a complex developmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. It is a spectrum disorder, which means that symptoms and severity can vary greatly from person to person.

One common symptom of autism is hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sensory input. This means that someone with autism may be over or under-sensitive to things like touch, sound, and smell. This can make navigating the world a challenge for those with autism.

Sensory processing issues can make wearing shoes a particular challenge for those with autism. Shoes can feel uncomfortable or even painful, and the sensation of socks or tights can be overwhelming. Additionally, the process of putting on shoes can be difficult due to fine motor skill challenges. This can lead to anxiety and frustration, which can be particularly challenging for children with autism.

Fortunately, there are strategies that can help. For example, choosing shoes made with soft, breathable materials can help reduce discomfort. Additionally, introducing a gradual desensitization process, where the person with autism is gradually exposed to the sensation of wearing shoes and socks, can help them become more comfortable with the sensation. Occupational therapy can also help improve fine motor skills, making it easier to put shoes on and take them off.

If you or someone you know is affected by autism, it's important to seek out support and resources. The Autism Society is a great resource for information and support for individuals with autism and their families. Check out their website at to learn more.

Free Crop girl tying laces on sneakers Stock Photo

Tips for Making Shoe-Wearing Easier

If you or your loved one with autism struggles with wearing shoes, here are some tips to try:

Choose the Right Shoes

Choosing the right shoes can make a big difference in comfort and ease of wear. Look for shoes that:

  • Have a wide toe box to allow for wiggle room
  • Are made of soft, flexible materials
  • Have minimal seams and stitching
  • Have removable insoles to accommodate orthotics
  • Offer adjustable closures, such as Velcro or elastic laces

Practice Sensory Integration Activities

Sensory integration activities can help desensitize someone with autism to the sensation of wearing shoes. Try:

  • Massaging the feet with a textured ball or roller
  • Gradual exposure to socks or tights
  • Wearing shoes for short periods of time and gradually increasing the duration

Break Down the Steps

Putting on shoes involves many steps that can be overwhelming for someone with autism. Breaking down the process into smaller steps can make it more manageable. Try:

  • Practicing each step separately, such as putting on socks first
  • Using visual aids, such as a picture schedule or social story
  • Using a shoe horn or other adaptive equipment to make it easier to slip on shoes

Make it Fun

Finally, make the process of wearing shoes as fun and enjoyable as possible. Try:

  • Letting your loved one pick out their own shoes
  • Decorating shoes with stickers or markers
  • Offering a reward for successfully wearing shoes for a certain amount of time

Dealing with Sensory Issues Related to Socks or Tights

Sensory issues related to socks or tights can be particularly challenging for those with autism. Here are some tips to help:

  • Choose socks or tights made of soft, breathable materials
  • Try seamless options to minimize discomfort from seams and stitching
  • Gradually expose the individual to the sensation of wearing socks or tights, starting with short periods of time and gradually increasing duration
  • Use sensory integration activities, such as massaging the feet or using a sensory brush, before putting on socks or tights
  • Consider compression socks, which can provide a soothing pressure sensation for some individuals with autism

By implementing these strategies, you can help make wearing socks or tights more comfortable and manageable for someone with autism.

Finding Fashionable and Comfortable Shoes

Finding shoes that are both fashionable and comfortable can be a challenge for anyone, but it can be especially challenging for individuals with autism. However, there are strategies that can make the process easier.

First, consider shopping at stores that specialize in comfortable shoes or orthopedic footwear. These stores often carry stylish options that prioritize comfort and support. Look for shoes made of soft, breathable materials with minimal seams and stitching.

Another option is to shop online. Many online retailers offer free shipping and returns, which allows you to try on shoes in the comfort of your own home. Look for reviews from other customers to get an idea of how comfortable and true-to-size the shoes are.

If you're looking for dressier options, consider slip-on loafers or ballet flats with elasticized openings. These styles provide a snug fit without the need for laces or buckles.

Ultimately, finding fashionable and comfortable shoes may require some trial-and-error. Don't be afraid to try on multiple pairs or return shoes that don't work out. With persistence and patience, you can find shoes that look great and feel even better.

Improving Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skill challenges can make putting on shoes a difficult task for individuals with autism. Here are some strategies that can help improve fine motor skills:

  • Practice finger and hand exercises, such as squeezing a stress ball or manipulating putty
  • Use adaptive equipment, such as a shoe horn or elastic shoelaces, to make it easier to put on and take off shoes
  • Encourage activities that involve grasping and manipulating small objects, such as playing with Legos or doing puzzles
  • Consider occupational therapy to work on fine motor skills and develop personalized strategies for putting on shoes.

By improving fine motor skills, individuals with autism can gain more independence when it comes to putting on their own shoes.

Handling Resistance or Refusal to Wear Shoes

For parents and caregivers, handling resistance or refusal to wear shoes can be a frustrating experience. Here are some tips to help:

  • Acknowledge and validate your loved one's feelings. Let them know that you understand that wearing shoes can be uncomfortable or overwhelming.
  • Try to identify the specific issue. Is it the sensation of the shoe itself, or is it related to anxiety about leaving the house? Understanding the root cause can help you develop a more effective strategy.
  • Offer choices whenever possible. For example, let your loved one choose between two different pairs of shoes or decide whether they want to wear socks or not.
  • Use positive reinforcement. Praise your loved one for any progress they make, no matter how small.
  • Consider alternative footwear options. Sandals or slip-on shoes may be more comfortable than traditional sneakers or dress shoes.
  • Seek out support from a therapist or support group if needed.

By approaching resistance or refusal with patience and empathy, parents and caregivers can help their loved ones with autism feel more comfortable and confident when it comes to wearing shoes.

For some individuals with autism, going barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes may be a viable option. Going barefoot can provide a sensory experience that is different from wearing shoes and can help with balance and proprioception. Additionally, minimalist shoes offer a lightweight and flexible alternative to traditional shoes, which can be beneficial for those with sensory processing issues. However, it's important to note that going barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes may not be appropriate for everyone and should be discussed with a healthcare professional or occupational therapist.

Incorporating Shoe-Wearing into a Daily Routine or Schedule

For individuals with autism, establishing a routine can be incredibly helpful in managing anxiety and promoting independence. Incorporating shoe-wearing into a daily routine or schedule can help make it a more manageable task. Here are some tips for incorporating shoe-wearing into a daily routine:

  • Set aside a specific time of day for putting on shoes, such as after breakfast or before leaving the house.
  • Use visual aids, such as pictures or written instructions, to outline the steps involved in putting on shoes.
  • Make shoe-wearing part of a larger routine, such as getting dressed in the morning or preparing to go outside.
  • Offer choices within the routine, such as letting your loved one choose which shoes to wear or whether they want to put on socks first.
  • Provide positive reinforcement for completing the task successfully.

By incorporating shoe-wearing into a daily routine or schedule, individuals with autism can develop greater independence and confidence when it comes to putting on their own shoes.

Techniques for Reducing Anxiety Related to Wearing Shoes

For individuals with autism, wearing shoes can be a significant source of anxiety. Fortunately, there are techniques that can help reduce anxiety related to wearing shoes.

One effective technique is deep breathing exercises. Taking slow, deep breaths can help calm the body and mind, reducing feelings of anxiety and stress. Encourage your loved one to take several deep breaths before and during the process of putting on shoes.

Another helpful technique is mindfulness practice. Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment and accepting whatever thoughts or sensations arise without judgment. Encourage your loved one to practice mindfulness while putting on shoes, allowing themselves to fully experience the sensation without becoming overwhelmed by it.

Progressive muscle relaxation is another effective technique for reducing anxiety related to wearing shoes. This technique involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body, helping to release tension and promote relaxation.

By incorporating these techniques into their daily routine, individuals with autism can develop greater coping skills when it comes to wearing shoes and managing feelings of anxiety. It's important to note that these techniques may not work for everyone, and it's important to work with a healthcare professional or therapist to develop personalized strategies for managing anxiety related to wearing shoes.

Tips for Maintaining Good Foot Hygiene When Wearing Shoes is Difficult

For individuals with autism who struggle with wearing shoes, maintaining good foot hygiene can be a challenge. Here are some tips to help:

  • Encourage regular foot washing with warm water and mild soap. This can help prevent bacteria and odor from building up on the feet.
  • Use a foot powder or antifungal spray to keep feet dry and free of fungal infections.
  • Consider using odor-absorbing insoles or shoe inserts to help reduce unpleasant smells.
  • If socks are uncomfortable, try wearing moisture-wicking socks made of materials like bamboo or merino wool that can help keep feet dry and comfortable.
  • Allow shoes to air out between wears. This can give them time to dry out and reduce the risk of bacteria growth.

By following these tips, individuals with autism can maintain good foot hygiene even when wearing shoes is difficult. It's important to note that if there are signs of infection or other foot issues, it's important to seek medical attention from a healthcare professional.


Do individuals with autism experience grief differently than neurotypical individuals?

While everyone experiences grief differently, research suggests that individuals with autism may have difficulty expressing their emotions or understanding the emotions of others. This can make the grieving process more challenging and may require additional support from caregivers or therapists.

How can I help someone with autism cope with grief?

There are several strategies that can help individuals with autism cope with grief, including:

  • Providing clear and consistent communication
  • Using visual aids to help explain the situation
  • Offering sensory-based activities, such as massages or aromatherapy
  • Encouraging physical activity or exercise
  • Providing opportunities for social interaction and support

Is it common for individuals with autism to have difficulty attending funerals or other memorial services?

Yes, it's not uncommon for individuals with autism to struggle with attending funerals or other memorial services. These events can be overwhelming and may trigger sensory overload or anxiety. It's important to respect your loved one's needs and preferences when it comes to mourning and honoring the deceased.

Should I tell my loved one directly about the death of a family member or friend?

It's important to provide clear and direct communication about the death of a loved one. However, depending on your loved one's level of understanding, you may need to use simple language or visual aids to help explain the situation.

How long does the grieving process typically last for individuals with autism?

The grieving process is different for everyone and there is no set timeline for how long it should take. It's important to be patient and offer ongoing support to your loved one as they navigate their grief.


Wearing shoes can be a challenge for individuals with autism, but with the right strategies, it can become easier and more comfortable. By choosing the right shoes, practicing sensory integration activities, breaking down the steps, and making it fun, you can help your loved one with autism feel more confident and independent.