Even after being a behavioral analyst for over a decade, I made a big mistake a few years ago about shoes for Lucas. Today, I’m going to cover some key points about shoes for kids with autism, that all parents and professionals need to know.
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The other day one of our long-time members Ana, asked a question in our private members only Facebook community, about how to teach her son Nick how to keep his shoes on. Which, has recently become a problem, and it coincided with him getting new shoes. Well, Nick has made a ton of gains since Ana joined my online courses and community two years ago when he was eight or nine years old, and Nick went from speaking only a handful of words occasionally, to being able to ask for and label hundreds of words. Nick remains impaired with moderate to severe autism, and new problems do creep up. For example, now he’s taking off his shoes constantly, and she wants to know how to help him learn to keep his shoes on.
Ana was also worried in her comment that she posted, that maybe Nick’s new shoes weren’t comfortable, as her son can’t tell her if he’s in pain. How many times have we bought shoes for ourselves and returned them, or never wore them again because they weren’t comfortable? I shared with Ana and the group how I made a huge mistake a few years ago related to shoes for kids with autism and how I bought shoes for Lucas, so I thought I’d share that with all of you today so that you don’t make the same mistakes.
When Lucas was in his late teens, he had some self-injurious behavior related to pain. This usually involved head pain, but there were times during and after his SIB that he was holding his feet and saying, “foot hurts.” I took him to a podiatrist who X-rayed his feet, which were generally fine. The doctor thought that maybe he needed better shoes, so he recommended going to a shoe store called Foot Solutions, that was in my mind a store for older people with bunions, and other older people foot issues. But, it was a great recommendation.
At this specialized shoe store, they had trained staff to measure Lucas’ feet, and to watch him walk in his current sneakers, and his new ones. Turns out Lucas had been wearing a size 10 medium sneaker for years, without much support and needed a nine-extra wide sneaker, with support.
The sneakers that I bought were $100, or over that, but his foot pain went away completely. Now, we just go into the store and buy him the same brand, and the same size sneakers, from the same store every six months or so, and he has been great with zero complaints of foot pain.
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Obviously for younger children, they’ll need to be measured each time. But, by the time Lucas had foot pain, and I made this big mistake, his feet were fully grown. The number one thing I can tell you to do with your child in regard to shoes for kids with autism, or suggest to your client’s families, is to get their feet measured at a specialized shoe store, by professionals who sell shoes to people with feet issues. Or, if they’re a young child, get them measured by a specialized shoe store for children’s shoes.
I’d also suggest purchasing more than one pair of shoes for kids with autism and give children and adults with autism a choice after wearing the pairs indoors a few times. Continue to give them choices, and you might then be able to return one of the pairs if they become uncomfortable and less preferred.
If teaching kids with autism to keep their shoes on becomes a problem behavior, make sure that the shoes are comfortable, and make it part of the dressing routine so that you don’t only put shoes on when it’s time to go out. If keeping shoes on is still an issue like it is for Nick, I’d recommend data collection, figuring out the function, and then a plan consisting of longer intervals with shoes on, and a reinforcement system that reinforces the behavior. Any behavior we want to increase, we need think about reinforcement.
Another point I want to make is that teaching shoe tying is probably easier to teach than you think. When Lucas was younger I assumed he’d need Velcro shoes his entire life. But, after one and a half hours of my time teaching him over a few weeks when he was 14 or 15, Lucas successfully learned to tie his shoes, and I’ve outlined how to teach kids to tie their shoes in another video blog that you can check out.
Finally, since Ana was worried about whether Nick’s new shoes were causing him pain, there needs to be a focus on teaching kids and adults with moderate to severe autism to indicate when they’re in pain. This is a complex skill, it’s very hard to reach, but important. In fact, it took me many years until I figured out how to get Lucas to tell me that he was in pain. I’ve outlined the steps that I used to teach Lucas and other kids to indicate they are in pain in another video blog.
In summary, when looking for shoes for kids with autism, avoid the mistakes I made. You want to make sure the shoes fit by getting your child’s feet measured at a specialized shoe store, and purchase more than one pair if possible and give choices. Also teach kids to keep their shoes on, and if that’s an issue, it will require more data collection, analysis, and a plan, including reinforcement. Finally, focusing on teaching kids with autism to tell you they are in pain is extremely important as well when looking for shoes for kids with autism.
I would love it if you’d leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up, and share this video with others who might benefit. For more information on my approach to turning autism around, you can attend a free online workshop at MaryBarbera.com/Workshops. I hope to see you right here next week.
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