At what point do favorite clothes become an obsession rather than a preference. A high-school friend who functions on the spectrum of autism reports that she only wears t-shirts featuring her favorite television star. She said, “I don’t know if it is an obsession, but I just feel like I can’t wear any other shirts to school.” Every Thursday, I visit with one of my friends with autism whose clothing preference might be considered obsessive. Although she has a closet full of clothes, she has worn the same outfit every single Thursday, no matter the weather, for over ten years. The outfit is getting rather tattered. Some parents have discovered that they only make matters worse when they try to get rid of favorite clothing. The issue can become serious when sweatshirts deteriorate into shreds or shoes no longer fit.
Some individuals with autism like to wear only a certain style or color of clothing, or like our high-school super fan, clothing with one theme. With just a few exceptions, this type of preference does not pose any particular challenges as long as family members, teachers, bosses, and other folks don’t make it an issue.
The problem arises when a person literally wants to wear the same clothes every single day, or if they won’t give up clothes or shoes after years of wear. Even if a person wears the same size for years on end, clothes and shoes eventually wear out. So, what are some options that caregivers can implement if they face this dilemma?
1. Buy two of everything. If a person will only wear a certain navy sweatshirt or a certain pair of sneakers, then purchase two or three sets and rotate them every two or three days.
2. Forget style. Don’t worry about what other people think.
3. Avoid extreme styles. When children are young, try to avoid extreme styles so you don’t run the risk of your youngster latching onto that style for several decades. You probably don’t want your daughter still wearing frilly pink pinafores when she is twenty-three.
4. Tolerate the transition. When clothes and shoes literally fall apart, we have no choice but to replace them. We just need to be prepared to tolerate the meltdowns that sometimes occur when old favorites must be replaced.
5. Ease into change. We can sometimes ease the transition by introducing a new pair of shoes several months before replacement is critical. The shoes may be more familiar and acceptable if they’ve been visible in the closet for several months and if they have lost the “new shoe” smell. New clothing is usually more easily acceptable if it has been washed several times and has been in sight for several months. One adult friend with autism said that he still has an extreme aversion to shopping for new clothes, so it helps him if a family member shops for clothes and runs them through the washer several times before putting them in his closet.
6. Keep souvenirs. If the person simply will not part with old favorites, put outgrown shoes or tattered pants in a zip lock bag as a souvenir. You can make a throw pillow out of patches of favorite shirts. Take a snapshot of your youngster wearing their old favorites.
We welcome your stories about favorite clothing and ideas for dealing with this potentially challenging issue. Just click on the comment button or send us an e-mail – talk@FAQautism.com
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to talk@FAQautism.com And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com
Published on: Mar 7, 2008