Photo of bright blue and green toddler sneakers

Shoes

I bought my daughter shoes yesterday. Her first pair. She’s almost two. Bright blue and green sneakers. She loves kicking balls in the backyard so we enrolled her in a preschool soccer class. At the last minute I saw the ‘rules’ said to wear ‘appropriate’ shoes. So we bought these.

Photo of bright blue and green toddler sneakers

Photo of bright blue and green toddler sneakers

My daughter’s only worn shoes a handful of times. For fun. Hand-me-downs that stay on for half an hour or so. She likes trying on my shoes and giggles as she plods down the hall with them on. She’s a twin. Her twin brother has never worn shoes. Even in winter. They cause him great distress. We tried a few times when it was very cold, or the ground was very hot, and he screamed and pulled at them.We made their big brother wear shoes. For three years he wore shoes every time we went out – to the shops, or the playground. He didn’t want to, but that’s what kids do in our suburban part of the world. I wanted him to fit in so much; my eldest boy, who jumped and ran through every shop and playground we went to, bumping and crashing in to things and people.

Sometime later, after his twin siblings were born, we realised their brother was autistic. We watched him more closely and saw that he needed to touch and bump in to things to locate his body in space. Turns out he has differences in his proprioceptive system, common with Autistic people (see Sensory World of Autism and Proprioceptive System). When I made him wear shoes, I was robbing him of his ability to ground and orient himself and feel what his body was doing. It was an awful thing to realise that this disorientation and disconnect from his body was caused because we wanted him to fit in.

We stopped with the shoes. No more. Best thing ever.

When he went out, he stomped his feet on the grass, and slapped his feet on the cold linoleum of the supermarket. He seemed more grounded and calm within himself.

Photo shows my eldest son, swinging on a swing, bare feet extended in air

Photo shows my eldest son, swinging on a swing, bare feet extended in air

Shoes cause him great distress.

One of our twins has some challenges with movement and balance. The physiotherapist recommended not wearing shoes, or only wearing shoes that had special soles. A few months back, I was out shopping with my sister and we went in to a fancy shoe shop and tried to buy him the right shoes. The shop assistant asked what size he was. I didn’t know.  I explained why – he has sensory issues and squeals and panics when we try to get him to wear shoes. The shopkeeper was so incredulous in her response that I clammed up and my sister had to come to my defence. I haven’t tried shoe shopping for him since.If he does wear shoes shoes he can’t climb up to the top of a fort or a slide (or on to my kitchen bench top!), and climbing brings him great joy.

No shoes for him either. A no-brainer.So now my children go forth in this world shoe-less. I guarantee that at least once every time we go out, someone will bend down and say to my kids “Where are your shoes?” and if it’s winter they might tell them, “you’ll catch a cold”.

mother-daughter

Photo shows my son at the playground, bare feet,  facing away from the camera, standing on red motorbike play equipment, one leg extended over bike

Photo shows my son at the playground, bare feet, facing away from the camera, standing on red motorbike play equipment, one leg extended over bike

“We don’t wear shoes”, I say. I say it loudly and proudly so that my children can hear. And with confidence. A confidence I wish I had before – To trust that my children know what they need to move and be in this world; and not to worry about expectations from others.

A confidence I hope I can hold throughout their childhood, when their needs are out of step with neurotypical society.

And what about my daughter? Well she had loads of fun kicking footballs today. The shoes stayed on for an hour. She ‘fit in’ because she was motivated to.

When we got home, off she went, barefoot with her brothers.

Photo shows my daughter, toddler, in a red and white shirt and shorts, bright blue sneakers, hands on head

Photo shows my daughter, toddler, in a red and white shirt and shorts, bright blue sneakers, hands on head

Photo shows: My twin toddlers, leaning over a wheelbarrow half-full with mud, both wearing tee shirts, nappies, no shoes. One child standing on a stool There is an assortment of spades and an orange bucket.

Photo shows my twin toddlers, leaning over a wheelbarrow half-full with mud, both wearing tee shirts, nappies, no shoes. One child standing on a stool. There is an assortment of spades and an orange bucket.