Autism Awareness Month, Day 2: Clothing


I don’t wear small shoes, or tight pants that squash your balls. ~George Harrison

Ralphie! You look so…stupid!

As April progresses merrily along, and warmer weather is in the air, clothing is a topic on many of our minds. Especially for those on the autism spectrum, what we choose (or don’t choose) to put over our bodies can be a great bone of contention.
In the past, I’ve written about how most “fashion trends” can seem to me impractical at best and torturous at worst. My tastes don’t ebb and flow like many people’s do. I know what I like and I stick with it. For me, this is usually a long skirt and t-shirt or hoodie, depending on the season, along with a pair of boots or Converse Chuck Taylors. It’s bohemian enough to be a personal style, and anonymous enough so I can blend into a background easily. That’s what I’m going for. Practicality.
Since I’m not a parent, when it comes to dealing with kids on the spectrum, I can only conjecture. I do know that many autistic kids have issues with texture (the way certain clothes feel on their skin, or pinch their feet), certain fabrics, even something like color. For their parents, the simple act of getting dressed for school can turn into a pitched battle. I know it was for my mom with me, even though we had never heard of autism back in the 1980s. There was also the issue of me wanting to wear my old, familiar grungies to church or to a family get-together, and when I couldn’t, meltdowns ensued. Doubtless this is a scene repeated in thousands of homes with an AS child. I feel for those parents.

This is what I call a compromise

 

Eventually, my parents and I came to a treaty of sorts. I was allowed to pick out my own clothes so long as they were clean, laundered, did not have holes or rips, and would not draw unnecessary attention. I was the one wearing them, not Mom and Dad. Why did they care what I wore, anyway?

Of course, the Clothing Wars are not unique to kids with autism. I’ve observed parents whose NT kids refused to take off their Spider-Man costumes with the exception of bathtime, and frustrated moms wondering what they ever did to deserve a teenage daughter with gonzo fashion sense. Clothes are a deeply personal choice. Humans, after all, are the only animals who choose to wear them. They’re an extension of ourselves and our personalities. Most creative people I know, whether AS or NT, have at least one fashion “quirk” which sets them apart from the norm. It could be a flashy scarf, a beret, maybe a custom pair of cowboy boots. Even Dr. Temple Grandin, arguably the most famous American with autism, sticks to Western-style clothes even at glamorous awards ceremonies. She is comfortable in those clothes and they work for her. I say, more power to her.

For the record, I agree

In the end, it’s my humble opinion that clothing choices should be left up to the child, within reason. There are more and more clothing manufacturers sensitive to the needs of autism; for example, tagless t-shirts and relaxed waistbands in pants and skirts. Thrift stores are a great place to mix, match and experiment, and many kids enjoy the feeling of a “treasure hunt,” although some of the more fussy ASers may not like the idea of a previously-worn item. If you’re crafty, try sewing some simple tops or bottoms for your kids, or try bartering services with someone who does sew. Be flexible. If your child has to wear a suit or nice dress for a special occasion, reward him or her afterward.

There have to be some boundaries: kids need to know that wearing all neon-green or a chicken suit in public is usually not the norm. Clothes also have to be clean and free of stains or holes. As kids with AS struggle with issues of acceptance, these can be some of the hardest, but most important, lessons to learn. They don’t have to dress “like everyone else,” but they also don’t want to get picked on for being strange. It’s a tight line to walk.

My advice? Since most AS kids like predictability, find a “uniform” of sorts and stick with it. If they have to wear a school uniform or other required attire, allow them to embellish if they wish. (Trust me…the last thing ASers want to be is just like everyone else.)

I’ll be continuing this series about autism as it relates to special topic throughout the month of April, so stay tuned. Thanks to all my readers, both AS and NT, for their support. I’d also love to hear from any autism parents who want questions answered.

I love my "uniform!"

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on April 3, 2011.

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