a blog about raising a daughter with cerebral palsy and learning unexpected lessons along the way

Thursday, September 2, 2010

If The Shoe Fits

I have to give credit to Katy at Bird on the Street for inspiring this post. It pains me to know that others go through the emotional chore of finding shoes for their kiddo in AFO's. For many, looking for these shoes can be a daunting task. I have stood in the middle of a shoe store before, admittedly crying, surrounded by boxes of shoes that just didn't work. It probably didn't help that the particular store was swarming with bounding toddlers who were picking out glitzy sandals and sassy flip flops while I was forced to select from a minimal and rather crappy choice of extra wide, not so cute, bulky, tennis shoes. I've toughen up to the process over the years because I've learned the requirements and tricks of the trade that make a good fit, for us at least. So I've come here to share a few pointers:

1. For starters, we always pick-up and feel a shoe. It must be lightweight and flexible or it's an immediate no-go. And yes, some toddler shoes are just plain too heavy.

2. We always look for a shoe that has a low toe, meaning the less the shoe covers the top of the foot, the better. Since we're buying girly shoes, this is fairly easy for us to find. This one of Oia's shoes and it is an example of what we call a low toe:

3. Another requirement of ours, so far, has been velcro straps. They're practical, quick, and easily adjustable. However, the one obstacle to some straps is that once the shoe is on over the AFO, the straps become too short to wrap over the top of the foot to fully fasten. We always take our shoes to a local shoe repair/alteration shop who beautifully lengthen the straps to make them work. Or, a handy neighbor with a sewing machine can do the trick too. We have had several pairs of Oia's shoes altered this way. This is her current pair with straps lengthened on the right shoe to fit over her AFO:

4. We all know the rip-out-the-insole-of-tennis shoe trick, but do not be afraid to cut out the tongue of a tennis shoe either. We did this to a pair of tennies that Oia wore a year or so ago and it made no difference in the function of the shoe but it did eliminate the bulk thus making for a better fit. Here is that shoe, you'd never know they originally had a tongue:

5. And when the sky parts and the angels sing because you have finally find the perfect fit, do yourself a favor and buy the same shoe in a couple different sizes larger so that perhaps you can save yourself from going through the same search later. I was given this advice some time ago (Thanks, Amy!) and it's been well worth it. The first shoe pictured above is the style of shoe that Oia wore last summer which worked perfectly. We purchased the same style two sizes larger and it will (hopefully) be her shoe for next summer.

6. Spending a lot of money on a pair of shoes is not my idea of fun, not even for myself. However, finding a functional and attractive shoe that fits is priceless in my book, regardless of what the price tag says. We find that Stride Rite shoes are easiest to accommodate, always have wide and extra wide, is the most durable, and I can always find what I need there. Plus, they have never denied me a return or exchange, even months after the purchase and they are always willing to work with me. This is very helpful, particularly when trying #5.

We all learn as we go, just like anything else we do as parents but knowing the above has been beneficial to us. Here's to happy, rather happier, times at the shoe store.


  1. This is so helpful! Never thought of cutting out the tongue or lengthening straps! Love the description of the place 'swarming with bounding toddlers', so true. Knowing that other parents go through similar experiences is such a relief.

  2. Hannah has yet to grow into the shoes you sent us, but I'm so glad to piggy back on the experience of others who have gone through this before. And I don't know if you are near a Nordstrom's store but the Shriner's staff swear that they will sell a pair of shoes in two different sizes to anyone who needs that. Now, I haven't tried this yet because I'm afraid I'll try it and they'll say no and I'll end up crying in the store, but when I get the courage to do it I'll let you know the outcome.

  3. Great post, Mo! Girl shoes are SO much cuter than boy ones. I will definitely be on the lookout for some that are lighter, like the ones you picture here.

  4. like the idea of cutting out the tongue.

    finding shoes for those AFOs are NOT fun.