This blog post, which originally appeared on the Autism Cafe blog, is reposted with the gracious permission of its author. Naomi Andjelic Bartlett is the mother of a low-verbal son with autism. A lawyer in her previous life, she is the co-founder and editor of Autism Cafe, a free resource devoted to providing relevant information to parents of children with autism (autism-cafe.blogspot.com). She is also the founder and developer of Spectrum Adapted Music, a comprehensive adapted music program designed to teach non/low verbal children with autism how to play the piano (adaptedmusic.blogspot.ca).
Having a much better sense of my son’s sensory challenges, I now understand how hard changing clothes with the change of seasons is for him. From shorts to long pants. From sandals to socks and shoes. From no jacket to a sweater or winter jacket. Et cetera and vice versa. I remember him wearing Crocs into November because I just couldn’t get him to change over to shoes and socks, no matter how cold his feet were. Winter jacket and snow pants? I distinctly recall a two-hour meltdown. No doubt, many of you have experienced similar difficulties. We’re lucky our son wears clothing in public given his sensory challenges, never mind changing his clothing once he is used to them!
It took a while to establish which clothing changes were not negotiable on my part, which battles were due to my son’s preferences that I simply couldn’t make out and respect, and which issues were the result of routine and not sensory related at all. The answers helped determine what I could do to help my son prepare for and accept required changes, and what I could do to respect his tastes and preferences for clothing that he just wasn’t able to express.
Here are some of our tricks:
2. Hats – Our son doesn’t like hats at all so we always ensure his winter jacket, hoodies etc. have a hood attached. He much prefers those.
3. Shorts and Pants – I had a lot of challenges one year switching from shorts to pants and vice versa for my son. I couldn’t see any rhyme or reason to his clothing preferences, until a friend told me that her typically developing son would only wear pants and shorts with elastic bands because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to take his pants off in time for toileting if they had a button. It turns out my son liked only the pants he was able to remove easily and independently as well, though he wasn’t able to tell me. Switching all pants and shorts over to elastic waist bands solved my problem too! Some of our kiddo’s preferences may not be that dissimilar from those of typically developing kids, and while I may never know for certain, looking at the preferences of typically developing children who can explain those preferences has helped.
4. Socks – In order to make sure our kiddo is almost always used to the feel of socks after a warm summer, we visit indoor playgrounds to ensure he has reason to wear them willingly over the summer months.
5. Shirts – I eventually moved our son’s entire closet to our entrance closet to determine what he would choose to wear and give him the entire option of dressing himself. Going back up to his room to get dressed after the morning routine didn’t sit well with him and he would fight the whole process of getting dressed. That lead me to believe that there were no clothing options suitable to him, which wasn’t the case at all. Not only were the battles gone once he was able to get dressed just before he walked out the door, but it also gave him complete choice of what to wear and I quickly learned his preferences. No long sleeve shirts was the most important discovery for me. My son wears short sleeved shirts year-round, and we layer with a hoodie in the winter. By the time he has to layer, he has gotten used to his fall hoodie and will put it on when the snow comes without trouble. Other important discoveries: no jeans, as mentioned above pants and shorts with elastic bands, and preferably, all things blue. It seems his preferences for clothing colour match in some ways his food sensibilities – nothing bright or red! We work on this and ensure he wears a broad range of colors where we can. In addition, my son does not like button up shirts as it interferes with his independence – he can’t take them off when he wants to! We stick to polo shirts.
6. When considering clothing for our highly sensory child, I wanted to make sure he could wear clothing that was work appropriate. It might sound a little uptight to have such considerations at such a young age, but it could take a while for children to get used to clothing if their preferences would not be appropriate in a work environment. I am perfectly fine with our son’s daily “uniform” of polo shirts and chinos as they will be acceptable in a casual work environment.
7. Gloves/Mittens – Our kiddo played with snow for years and only recently began to realize how cold his hands get and request gloves. He prefers lighter gloves, but acts as if his hands are paralyzed when he has them on.
8. Snowpants – These are very difficult. We had to wait for him to appreciate playing in the snow enough to override his hatred of this item of clothing. It’s the swishing he doesn’t like and I realized this years ago with rain jackets. I gave up on those entirely as it was next to impossible to find a rain jacket that didn’t have a swishing outer shell. Fortunately, our son loves to be outside and will now wear the pants in order to do so. One tip: he prefers the snow pants that are like regular pants. We don’t do the farmer top with the shoulder straps.
I hope some of these techniques work for you!