8 Tips for a Change in School Uniform for the Sensory Child

Although it’s several years since my children transferred to high school, again this year we are having to deal with managing a change in school uniform. My daughter will be moving away from wearing leggings with her polo shirt and sweatshirt, to proper school trousers. Trainers will be replaced with school shoes.

It seems such a simple thing to those of us without massive sensory issues. But a change in uniform for the sensory child can can be a really big deal.

She has had experience of wearing the full school uniform proscribed by the majority of high schools.


Cotton button up shirt.


She really didn’t like it. Part of the fun of her new school was the more relaxed dress code. And whilst the changes this year are minimal, the second post of this mini series seems a good place to discuss how we can make the transition to high school uniform more comfortable for our sensory children.

1. Labels are Public Enemy No 1

Clothing labels are the absolute bane of my life. Eldest child has a particular aversion to them. Even after all these years I always forget to remove them from new garments. I then pay the price by having to repair said garment when the offending label has been torn/cut from the seam without much care.

Removing all wash care/branding labels from school uniform is a good idea for both of you. Your child will be much more comfortable in the unfamiliar clothes, and you won’t have to channel your inner Little Dorrit to repair the damage.

2. Iron on name tapes are a close second.

Iron on name tapes are brilliant. Until they’re not. They have a tendency to lift at the corners after a bit of wear. At which point they will torment your child.

I can sew, so I have always done The Sewing on Of the Name Tapes every August. But if sewing isn’t your thing, you can get ink stamps that print your child’s name onto the garment. You can also get clip on tags for inside blazer pockets, bags and other equipment that doesn’t touch the skin.

For shoes and socks….I just use good old Sharpie pens! It lasts much longer than any label I’ve tried.

3. Socks are just as bad

School socks are problematic for sensory children. More so than everyday socks, which also have the benefit of being discarded at will. Not only do you have to keep school socks on all day, but they are often made of quite nasty fabric. Exhibit A is sport socks. Nasty fabric, nasty seams.

Ah….seams! I have spent hours and hours of my life waiting for a child to ensure that the seam on a school sock is exactly in the right place. Ditto the heel shaping. We have the problem to a lesser degree with everyday socks, but I think the combination of fabric and construction in school socks is the perfect storm of torture for sensory toes.

Both of my kids would happily live in hand knitted tube socks (no toe seams or shaped heels) or bare feet. But that isn’t an option. And school sock choices are often restricted by the parameters of school uniform policy, availability and cost.

We have managed this change in school uniform by choosing wisely. My son wears plain black sports socks to school. The cushioning helps mitigate the discomfort of the toe/heel shaping. Also they tend to have the seams further back on the toes and not near the tips.

If my daughter is wearing a skirt, tights were always a more comfortable option. Many don’t have heel shaping and there isn’t the elastic at the cuff to worry about either. Under trousers…sports socks again.

And if all else fails…talk to school. My daughter, at mainstream school, was excused from wearing sports socks for PE because they were intolerable to her. It’s worth a try.

4. Dealing with sandpaper fabrics

One of the hardest parts of the change in school uniform for my two was the texture of the fabrics. Both were used to wearing cotton polo shirts next to the skin. Not only was this a cosy and comforting fabric to wear next to the skin, but it buffered them from the texture of skirt and trouser waistbands. Fortunately they had both worn polyester trousers and skirts in primary school and had grown accustomed to them.

Crisp cotton button down shirts with collars were not welcomed.

The three things I do to make shirts just a little more comfortable are:

  • Buy a size larger so it’s big around the neck. Under a tie and blazer no one will notice the difference. Your child will feel the difference.
  • Wash the fabrics a few times before wearing them and use fabric softener if your child can tolerate it.
  • Don’t iron the shirts. Maybe just the fronts if you really can’t let them out of the house unpressed.
  • Wear a cotton T-shirt or vest under the school shirt (in the same colour). It will act as a barrier between skin and fabric.

I know this is heresy (and don’t tell our headteacher), but, honestly, I haven’t ironed shirts for the kids in years.

It’s a layer less of annoying crispness for them. It’s hours less work for me. They only throw clean, ironed shirts all over the floordrobe instead of hanging them up.

And by the time they’ve reached school and run around like wildlings you can’t tell the shirt has been ironed anyway. Give yourself a little grace on this one.

5. Wear in shoes before they start school

Get them into their shoes today.

Just around the house.

Wear them in.

Swap them out for new school trainers and football boots. And shin pads.

All of these things need to be as comfortable as possible before they go back to school. If shoes are a bit stiff or tight you can get shoe softening spray from your local shoe shop or online. And a cold wash in the machine can help break in new trainers before wearing.

5. Velcro

Still on the subject of shoes…Velcro is a modern miracle. If your child has any fine motor skill challenges at all, tying laces under pressure can be all but impossible. In fact tying laces at all can be a difficulty then don’t need to be worrying about in school. Not only from a “time it takes to do it” perspective, but from “I don’t want people to make fun of me” one.

Velcro shoes, trainers, footy boots and bags are all time and anxiety savers if your child is even remotely concerned about this. And no one at school will know or care that it’s because you have difficulty in this area…it will be seen as a style choice.

6. Practice makes…..easier

Year 7 is a big step for most children. Mine were still very young for their ages, and the quick changes needed for PE were horrendous for them initially.

If I’d known then what I know now, I would have had them practicing putting on and taking off their new uniform prior to starting school. You can make it into a fun game of dress-up and “playing schools’ for the smalls just starting primary school.

This serves two purposes. Obviously they get used to getting into and out of clothes that might be completely new for them. Or that they’ve never had to do on their own.

Equally importantly, though, is you get to spot the problem areas now, not next week when they’re doing their first PE lesson. I’ll refer you back to the problems we had with sports socks. I only knew about it when I got a call from school. I felt like the world’s worst mother!

7. Backpacks

Just a reminder that backpacks can help your child ground themselves during the day at school. Especially important during the first few anxious weeks of a new school or school year.

And if you want to change the fastenings on your childs back pack to Velcro….they do a version of it where you don’t have to sew. Both sides of the tape are stick on and you only need to buy a small amount to convert a zip or clip flap to velcro. Curtain making shops such as Dunelm will sell this.

8. If all else fails….

Despite your very best efforts, your child might still struggle with school uniform. Especially in a really strict school where you are limited about the swaps you can do.

My first advice would be to speak to school. I know. I say this all the time. But it’s true. You’re in partnership with school, even if they aren’t always happy to acknowledge this. Make an appointment to see your child’s class teacher/form teacher/head of year/SENDO/pastoral carer. Explain the problem. Ask them how you can work together to solve this. Hopefully this will do the trick.

Our mainstream high school is so strict with uniform. They do send children home to change. Everything has their logo on it (except underwear and shirts….I play happily with swaps there). Sport socks are made from recycled crisp packets, I swear. I don’t have sensory issues but I can barely bear to touch them. However…a conversation with the PE teacher and the SENDO resulted in my daughter not wearing the wretched things. As an aside, her curriculum was changed to swap the single PE lesson each week because of how long it takes her to change.

It’s definitely worth a try.

My second piece of advise is born from experience. Time is your friend.

I just checked in with my daughter whilst writing this, particularly the bit about socks. Because it dawned on me that we hadn’t had sock issues in this house for a while. I was trying to remember the last time we had tears because “the sock won’t go on right”, or “the seam HURTS”, or “I HATE SOCKS”. Or all of the above, or some version thereof. With tears, of course.

So I asked her what had changed. And she said “oh, they’re still a problem, I’m just more used to them, and can get them in the right place quicker”. This made both of us smile.

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These are just really useful items that might make your child’s life easier, which in turn makes everyone happier.

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