Shoe fitting: Why the correct footwear is paramount for people with autism

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The inside of a shoe shop, with red accents and shoes lining the wall and a chair for shoe fitting.

Shoe fitting can be a chore for those with autism, writes Peter Varnavas.

It’s a lesser known fact that most people with autism are quite sensitive to shoes. Yet, a lot of them are wearing footwear which either does not fit properly, or is actually causing them discomfort. As communication issues are also very common, it can be very difficult to ascertain whether someone is in pain when they walk. This can lead to expensive trainers, for example, literally being discarded on the streets or in garden bushes.

The right fit

The very first thing to do is to get a comprehensive shoe fitting done by a specialist and, if possible, a medically-trained provider. Quite often, it’s discovered someone’s actual foot size is not the size of the shoes they have been wearing all along.This happens particularly when young people’s feet have not stopped growing. At the same time, it’s also really important to show respect to the child or adult who is being fitted. They should be communicated with in whatever is the most suitable way, rather than talking ‘about’ them. Specialist providers should offer trained staff who know sign language or can communicate in other adaptive ways. Alternatively, staff can use written communication materials.

On top of this, it’s vital that children have access to the proper foot and gait assessment. Letting them then walk around in the footwear before choosing a shoe is essential for this.

Sensory issues

Specialist footwear should have high quality materials, as well as the proper structure, to help make them comfortable to wear. Those on the spectrum are highly sensitive physically and experience other sensory issues around them. On top of finding the right fit and good materials, the shop should have a calm and relaxed environment. Even if there is an appointment system in place, (which there normally would be in current times), slots can be blocked out for families that are shielding, or who have members in need of a quieter experience, therefore removing unwanted distractions.

If the shoe fits

The pressures to ‘fit in’ affect us all, so having designs which are both attractive and practical can boost confidence. There are choices which are amenable to those which have both mental and physical disabilities. These shoes are available to both able-bodied and disabled customers. This should have the benefits of removing negative ‘labels’ and open up the specialist market to all.

Adaptivity means progress

Specialised providers also means there is a lot of leeway when it comes to adaptivity, which is incredibly important. Many Autistic people do not like wearing shoes, as described above. There is much we can do. There are shoes that are fashionable, functionable and inclusive and have ‘fliptop’ technology which makes them quick and easy to put on and take off. This also aids independence! Zips along the side around the toes allow the shoe to open so they can place their foot into the shoe unobstructed. There is also wide fitting provision and non-toe covering. This removes the feeling of being ‘hemmed in’. This will help remove compulsory emotions for those who want to to chuck their shoes into the hedge.

For more information on shoe fitting, click here. For more articles about autism, click here and here.

A picture of Peter Varnavas. He has cropped grey hair and a grey sweater and he's smiling into the camera.
Peter Varnavas
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Peter Varnavas has been a member of the Society of Shoe Fitters since 2005. His no-compromise approach to foot health and footwear fitting has resulted in Precious Soles having a nation-wide catchment area, as well as recognition from some of the world’s leading Health Care Professionals (HCP’s) in Paediatrics, Podiatry and Physiotherapy.

He is a stickler for maintaining high standards and this is seen through the way he trains his staff at Precious Soles and how he motivates them to continuously develop their skills.

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