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Finding Shoes that Fit AFOs

Shoe shopping tips that every caregiver should know to find shoes that fit over braces.

Finding shoes that fit over AFOs can be a challenge, especially the very first time your child is fitted. While finding the right fit is still a challenge, I learned lessons early to ease the stress associated with buying shoes. My hope is that my tips will lessen your stress and potential heartache. Are you a family member or friend who needs a gift idea for a special AFO-wearer in your life? Ask their caregiver if sponsoring shoes would be helpful.

  1. Avoid heartache associated with taking your child to a shoe store. When they are old enough for an opinion but not old enough to understand the situation, I would avoid the heartache. It will mostly be yours. See my post “The Day Buying Shoes for AFOs Broke my Heart“.
  2. Know that it takes time to find shoes in a store and “cute ones” are hard to come by. A few brands that give you have a higher likelihood to find wide and extra-wide are rare in store for young children, even for brands that make the width. They are: Stride Rite, New Balance, Saucony, Sketchers, DC, and Converse. You may have success at Payless ShoeSource, Walmart, or Kohl’s. I have heard of a couple of light up pairs at Walmart for boys and at Kohl’s for girls. At one point, I ordered pairs of Princess Shoes and Dora the Explorer shoes from Payless ShoeSource’s website but they, sadly, have been discontinued.
  3. Shop online, if possible. After repeated disappointing trips, I now only buy shoes on the Internet. When she has a new set of braces, I order a couple sizes and send back what doesn’t fit. I also tend to stick to brands/styles I know work. Ordering on the Internet can be hit or miss but it is how we have to do it. My favorite places to shop are Amazon.com and Shoebuy.com. The options remain limited but with quick, free shipping and easy returns, I find it the easiest that I have found so far. For more ideas, visit AFOwear on Pinterest.

Visit our page, Tips for Everyday Orthotic Wear, for more tips related to adjusting and wardrobe. If you found this helpful or know someone who would, please share.

Coming Soon: AFOwear Shoe Search for a convenient way to find your favorite AFO-friendly shoe brands.

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]




A Wise Child Once Taught Me, Never Say Never

I thought my first “real” post was going to be the most helpful one, finding shoes that work over AFOs. Today, I realized another tip was more important and that as a mom, is probably the golden tip, the mother of all my tips:

The power of positive thinking. Remembering to never say never about a child’s future abilities.

Let’s go back to my daughter’s first days. This was a time of great uncertainty. I tried to find information about her condition, tried to know what to do and what to believe. Her future was in my hands.

When Ariana was 10 days old, my husband and I sat in the evaluation room at our local Children’s hospital – top rated in the country, and waited for answers and hope. The first stream of people entered, the resident and her student entourage (you know what I mean). I can still remember that moment. It went a little like this…

The resident, I am going to call her “Sarah”, began with the usual line of questioning. “So, tell us about your pregnancy”, she said. “Tell us about your family history”. Then, I went into all the not-so-glorious details about that when all I wanted to know was, “will she walk?”.

After the long line of questioning, in came the doctor. The door opened and it was as if the seas had just parted; a flock of doves were released all around him while angels sang. He was the “crazy professor with a bow-tie” type of doctor. The ONE with answers. After a while, he left the room and Sarah re-entered after their pow-wow in the hallway. I finally got to ask, “Will Ariana walk?” She looked into my eyes and said, “That’s the goal, but I don’t know.” She didn’t say “no”, but it was a very hopeless sounding, “that’s the goal”.

I went home, I often rocked my 5 pound baby girl in the middle of the night, dreaming of whether she would ever ride a scooter in the cul-de-sac like I saw the neighborhood kids often do. I shed a few tears at night, in high hopes and also completely enamored by her.

My family told me that she would walk, she would run. I tried to control their expectations as they were trying to give me the hope that the doctors failed to provide. They needed to be prepared that she may not do those things. The next year and a half was filled with doubt about her future abilities. I had fears, ones that she, one-by-one, erased.  These doubts were mine alone, never shared by my determined child. Today, at physcial therapy, she was told to run as fast as she could up and down the hallway.  To you, she may have been walking somewhat quickly.  To her, she was definitely racing.  To me, she was winning a marathon.

I am here to tell you folks, NEVER say “never”. NEVER say “can’t”. Children are amazing. I have spent the last 4 years, first being schooled by an infant who continues the lessons to present day, always with a smile. This week, I sat poolside and watched Ariana enjoy her swim lesson.  No one watching knew, the lesson was for us.

That is:  Everything is possible!  If this tiny girl could overcome such adversity with a smile, we all need to hold hope and believe. She changed my life forever and now, my purpose is clear.