Autism: Buying new shoes…

Well the time has come where I can no longer let J continue wearing his maroon ankle boots. His feet are just too big. J often has a favourite. He is the same with shoes. When given free choice they are the shoes he goes for…sometimes he ‘favourite’ (which does change time to time) just isn’t appropriate anymore. It may be change in season, shoe size or they have holes. Encouraging J to try new shoes on isn’t always easy. But I’m happy to say that yesterday we managed it. He now has one new pair of fitting shoes (I’ll work on adding more to the collect, and oddly enough he’s not bothered about what wellies he wears).

Our main issues with shoe shopping are the same with most shops…people, noise, space and the unexpected. So, I put things in place to help minimise the issues as much as I could. Here’s what worked for us…

Planning the Trip

I popped into Clark’s and booked an appointment. This meant we could pick a quieter day and time, as well as not having to hang around and wait for our turn. We could go straight to the store and be ready to shop. I also had a look around whilst I was child free so I could have a mental plan of what shoes I wanted J to try on.

I made sure that J was prepared. We talked about it when running through the days plans and I made it clear we were looking for one pair of shoes because he was growing so big now. He didn’t really say much, so I think he was taking it in…or just wasn’t bothered at that moment, haha.

Being Involved

I made sure J was involved in the shopping. He had a look at the shoes, ran around looking in the mirrors and even helped to measure his own feet. They used an electronic tablet and the staff got J involved. He had to choose a colour scheme for the tablet and then find how old he is. He then stood on the scales to be measured. He is a 9.5f now (how did that happen so fast!?) so recommended a size 10. The lady was really good with J. She spoke to him, gave him choices and even let him hold the width measurer whilst she went to get the shoes in the his size.

J would pick which shoes to try on next, have a walk around and tell us if they went in yes or no pile.

Ensure there’s space and sensory breaks.

Expecting J to sit still for the whole time was unreasonable. Not just because of the sensory issues but because he’s 3! He had opportunity to run around in the space, would walk/run around in each pair of shoes to give them a try, sat on the floor, on the chair, laid on the chair, climbed on the chair…I knew he needed movement to unwind from the sensations of new shoes and people touching his feet.

I also made sure that I had sensory toys in my bag and his ear defenders. We didn’t actually need them but always pack a ‘just in case’ bag with distractions.

Be the voice for your child

Although experienced in helping children pick shoes, the staff don’t know your child. There were times where J would use Makaton or I could see by his face something was bothering him. This was the time I would ‘translate’ or ask the lady to wait, make a suggestion etc. J starting to ‘lick’ the mirror. This is a sensory thing J does when he’s over stimulated. I redirected him and knew we’d reached the end of his tolerance so I choose a pair of shoes and we went to pay.

Thankfully J was so excited that he happily put on his new shoes and wore them home. I put his old shoes in the box and hid them when we got home. My thought was ‘out of sight, out of mind’. If he couldn’t see them then they wouldn’t be an option. We went for a play on nearby play equipment so J could burn off some of his energy and do some spinning to centre himself. Then we went for food…we’ve had no come back or sensory issues so it was a great day.

I know that for some children, the transition to new shoes might be more challenging. Many children who are on the spectrum get into a routine of the same type of shoe, same brand, same colour. It can be the texture and the comfort. Or it could simply be that they can’t deal with the change and saying ‘goodbye’ to the shoes. Here’s some suggestions that could help:

Social Story

Create a simple story with lots of basic images to show that our feet grow/shoes break (depending on why you need new shoes) and the process of what will happen, including what’s going to happen to the old shoes. Use logos from the shop you’re going to and see if there’s any photos of the store and possible shoes online. This helps prepare children for the change in a way that isn’t always possible verbally.


Create a visual routine of what’s happening so you can show what’s happening and what’s happening next. This takes away some of the uncertainty and can help establish a sense of control. We used a basic version with a picture of car, shoes, lunch and home. However, you can make it more specific and step by step of the whole process. If you contact the shoe shop and explain the situation they may have photos they can send you or link to website.

Gradual change over

As long as the shoes aren’t dangerous or causing a hazard they you can phase out the old shoes. For example child can leave house in new shoes and change into old shoes for coming home (or after 10 minutes and then build on it). Or you could wear new shoes in house and old shoes outside whilst they get used to the new texture. Depending on your child then reward chart, praise and attention for the new shoes may help.

For other children, completely ignoring the change can help as drawing attention may prolong the process of moving on.

It may sound like a lot of effort for something as simple of buying new shoes. However, for children with additional needs it can be a sensory experience, a change to routine and fear of the unknown. Each child is different in how they may react so you have to do what works for you. I’d love to know  if you have anymore tips or suggestions. Let me know in comments, or on our social media…find us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s