Many of us across the country enjoyed a warmer than usual fall and early winter in 2015. It was a wonderful respite for those of us that often endure unreasonable amounts of layers well before the official winter months of January and February. For those of us with autistic children, the warmer fall meant not having to change wardrobes for a few extra months.
You might be thinking, who cares about what type of clothes one wears? I for one, breathed a huge sigh of relief that I did not have to worry about a winter coat until the end of December. Not because of the price of coats or the lack of time to buy one (although finding enough time is a challenge). I was dreading winter coats because my youngest daughter, who happens to be on the spectrum, hates wearing a winter coat. This is not your average refusal to not wear something because of stubbornness. It all boils down to sensory issues and sensory sensitivities. My daughter cannot physically handle wearing a coat that is in any way “puffy”.
What is puffy? Puffy is any coat she feels is overly stuffed or insulated. In other words, most winter coats on the market. The problem is, I have no idea what she deems puffy. This year I bought several winter coats that I felt were thin enough not to be considered puffy, yet still warm enough for winter wear. I failed yet again, too puffy. We, my daughter and I, finally agreed on a coat after much consideration. So, at least for the next few months, I can put the winter coat battle to rest.
Here’s the thing, it’s not just coats that cause her sensory overload, it is all clothes. You name it, we have had an issue. We have had a leggings phase, a dress phase, a Velcro phase…and those are only a few of the ever-spinning wheel of clothing likes and dislikes. Before my youngest was diagnosed with autism, at the age of three, I thought she was just an extremely picky child with very specific tastes (as specific as one can be as a toddler). I figured her unique clothing tastes were just a stage.
After her diagnosis, I realized that she really has an aversion to certain types of clothing. I really cannot be critical of her clothing choices. As an autistic woman, I have sensitivity issues too and will not wear anything with a tag (all tags have been carefully cut out of all my clothing). I will not wear turtlenecks, itchy sweaters, or high heels. The answers to why I refuse to wear certain articles of clothing? I do not like the way they feel. It’s really that simple.
I had hoped I could pick out all their clothes until their preteen years. It turns out that autism had other plans. That is really okay. In fact, it’s wonderful! Each of my daughter’s expresses her own individuality in what she wears.
My advice for parents with children on the spectrum is pretty straight forward when it comes to clothing. Don’t buy clothes too far in advance. Your child’s clothing and sensory preferences may change. I learned this the hard way by buying too many clothes during one of those great clearance sales. If your child cannot tolerate wearing certain types of clothing, even if it was a great deal, you end up wasting time and money. Try not to stress too much over fashion trends. Yes that adorable fuzzy sweater would look amazing on your four year old, but if said four year old screams for an hour, the sweater isn’t worth its weight in gold.
Let go of your ideal wardrobe preconceptions. Sensory issues are part of the territory when it comes to autism. Believe me, your child is really experiencing a truly unpleasant experience if you force wearing clothes that cause sensory overload. It is better to have a happy child that is comfortable, than a child who cannot stop pulling, tugging, or squirming. When my mother made me wear turtlenecks as a child, I felt like I was choking. I couldn’t wait to get that turtleneck off! Fashions come and go. Autism is a friend for life, so don’t worry so much about the clothes!