AFO shoes

The Day Buying Shoes for AFOs Broke My Heart

I am constantly challenged while shopping for shoes to fit over my daughter’s AFOs and KAFOs. My experience is really what sparked action to create this website. I don’t have all the answers but I have learned ways to make it easier. Here’s the story of the moment I realized this wasn’t going to be easy. We also added the Tips for Everyday Orthotic Wear and Finding Shoes that Fit with ideas that I hope help. I am not a doctor or orthotist. I am just a mom hoping to help other parents in a similar situation.

How I felt when my daughter first got her braces

When my daughter was 17 months old, she got her first sets of AFOs and KAFOs that allowed her to stand for first time in her life. I was so excited to get these first sets of braces. They were the key to getting her on her feet so she could one day walk! What’s not to be excited about?!

Our first shopping trip to buy shoes to fit over braces brought me to my knees

My family arrived home from a medical trip out of state to pick up her first set of AFOs and KAFOs. She had school the next day so she had to have shoes to go over her braces. So, that Sunday evening, we went to the shoe store to get Ariana’s first pair of shoes. Super exciting as she hadn’t worn shoes before!

I had prepared myself for this, I thought. It wouldn’t be so bad because I got tips from my mom friends with children in braces. I heard that Payless Shoe Source had a pair of shoes that would work. So, that’s where we chose to shop on our rushed timing. When you get braces for the first time, you don’t know the size until you have them.

That first trip was an epic fail! Our mistake was taking Ariana into the shoe store. We didn’t know this was a bad plan. We needed her to try them on. The problem was she wanted the cool princess light-up shoes. I wanted so badly to give her the princesses and flashy lights. She had never worn shoes and I wanted to give her what she wanted.

So, we sat on the floor in the back of the aisle and started trying them on. Nope, not a single pair she chose fit. I found one pair of shoes in the whole infant section that was extra wide that accommodated her KAFOs. The only good news was that we found a pair of shoes; a single pair within an aisle-long selection. I tried to convince her that these were awesome while all she wanted were the princess shoes. I cried. In the store I tried to hold back the tears, but I could not.

That day changed how I shop, I learned to never take her shoe shopping. In fact, I do not go into a store to try to find shoes. It was such a disheartening experience. 

From there, I ordered a couple of pairs in different sizes and found some that fit. Once I found that pair, I continued to order that style until she was no longer a size that they made. Ordering on the internet is hit or miss but it is how we have to do it. It works for us. We still get the basic sneaker and don’t buy anything trendy. After I found a pair of Stride Rite shoes that worked, I got brave and went into a Stride Rite store (by myself). I figured it would be safe to go to the store. Ariana was obsessed with Abby Cadabby from Sesame Street. I found a pair of shoes that “looked” like they would work and took them home. That was epic fail #2; she couldn’t even put her toe in the shoe. Of course, it was just a dream that I could get my daughter a pair of cute shoes with her favorite character. I had to return them the next day and go the next size up and they still didn’t work. I apologized profusely to Ariana for disappointing her and returned the shoes and came home empty handed.

So, this is our life. Basic sneakers with not much excitement, ordered in-advance online. We are not able to find anything on trend or that are fun for children. Shoes with favorite characters or light-up soles are rare and not easily found, especially quickly. This is life and I know there could be worse problems.

This is why finding shoes that fit over braces is my most stressful wardrobe challenge.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the shoes you will buy to fit over braces. There are different types of braces that affect shoe fit. The universal problem seems to be shoe width toe box depth (how much room there is in the toe area). The challenge is that you really need the brace to know the appropriate shoe size and width. This makes shopping a challenge when you need shoes the same or next day.

Visit our Tips for Everyday Orthotic Wear page for ideas on how to approach shoe shopping and lessen stress. Please share if you found it helpful or know someone who it may help.

Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood New Friend

Fitting In: In So Many Ways, We are the Same

Fitting in: a topic that may be unspoken but surely crosses most parent’s minds at some point when they have a child with a disability or braces – maybe I should stop at “have a child.” This was, for me, a fear of the unknown when my child was younger. A fear, at its strongest, before she showed me her resilience and strength. I still wrestle with it from time to time but mostly, I learned that things will be okay.

That brings me to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a children’s show on PBS Kids. I am very proud of the writers for helping teach kids about diversity and inclusion. They teach that everyone is different in some ways but everyone is the same in so many other ways. Before I tell you more about the episode, Daniel's New Friend / Same and Different [HD], here’s the story about why it stole my heart.

At some point, nearly every child becomes aware of differences. If the difference is theirs, this may or may not be upsetting for them. It can be more distressing for parents who hope for their child to be able to fit in. Many children in orthotics require more medical attention than average. Watching them go through that intensifies the desire for them to fit in while confident in themselves.

Let’s go back to Ariana’s last birthday when she asked for a fish. We went to a pet store to look at them. A man, I’ll call “Ed”, greeted us with a friendly smile from behind the cash register. We said “hello” and slowly browsed. Ariana walked independently instead of being carried. She was wearing a cute dress with her braces outside her leggings, easily seen. Before we got too far, Ed stepped out from behind the counter and said to Ariana, “Hi there, I want to show you something.” From there, he bent down and lifted up his pant leg to show her his brace. Then continued, “I don’t normally show people my braces but wanted to show you that I have braces, just like you!” Ariana looked at me with the biggest smile, happy to have just met a friend. I asked, “Why do you have to wear braces?” and he told me that it is due to Muscular Dystrophy. I thanked him for sharing, we shopped for the fish and left after saying goodbye to Ed. That was that.

About a month later, the night of a school party, Ariana asked me, “Mommy, why do I wear braces and my friends wear only socks and shoes?” Caught a little off guard, I said, “Remember how you had a lot of casts to correct your (club)feet?” She shook her head yes. “Well, this is to keep them straight and to help you walk. Everyone is different in some way.” She said, “Just like Ed, the man at the fish store.” She wasn’t sad, just curious. I didn’t know until then that Ed made a lasting impression. I am grateful to Ed for giving Ariana someone to relate to.

Then, last week, she was watching an episode of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” from PBS Kids. To my excitement, a little girl named Chrissie was wearing braces and using arm crutches. The show’s lesson taught about braces, how they help Chrissie walk, followed by how everyone is different, yet the same. I already liked the program because I find it educational but now, they stole my heart. If you haven’t seen it, it could be an episode to watch with your young children. Ariana now often says to me, “I want to watch Christy [sic]”. It makes my heart happy that she has this character.

I think the more we can reenforce messages like this, the better. It is great for kids, like Ariana, to see children like them in media. It is great to teach all kids that others are different and it is okay to talk about it and ask questions. This is a lesson beyond braces. It celebrates differences but points out how much we really are the same. At the end of the day, we seek companionship and community.

On a parting note, I am encouraged by what I see at my daughter’s preschool today. Kids are kids. They play, boss each other around and, yet, hug each other with huge smiles after a weekend or vacation. The moment I heard most of the kids in her class refer to her as their best friend, I knew they saw her for her and the rest is just a part of her – lessons learned young and accepted.

You can watch this Daniel Tiger episode #133 (S04E03) on PBS Kids, Netflix, and Amazon. If you are not a subscriber, you can download a copy below.


Daniel's New Friend / Same and Different [HD]