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.
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.
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”.
“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.