Clothing for Autism
By Nancy Schlesinger
Getting dressed sounds easy, right? Not so true for people with autism. Because of delays in learning life skills, the daily ritual of getting dressed presents unique challenges. There are 12 million tweens, teens and young adults in this country who cannot dress themselves. The apparel market is starting to pay attention to the special needs of these kids. Fashionable clothing in the department and specialty stores, until now, presented all kinds of obstacles for these children. Lowered hand dexterity and poor motor skills make zippers and buttons too difficult to manage. Because of lowered sensory tolerance, scratchy tags and exposed seams are inaccessible and uncomfortable for this demographic. Children getting dressed by themselves often get frustrated. They may end up with their clothing put on inside out or backwards. Often times they put on tops and bottoms that don’t match. By default and exhausted parents, the kids end up with wearing monotone, baggy clothing, not what their peers are wearing.
Clothing is now available that addresses these issues. All the pieces in our collection are coordinated. Every piece is tailored so that the person looks pulled together. The garments are made from soft fabrics without zippers or buttons. The seams are metered and the waistbands are elastic. Comfort is a priority. But comfort doesn’t preclude being fashionable. Everyone wants to fit in with their peers. People with autism should have the same clothing selection as their friends and peers with the addition of being designed with them in mind.
Independence is even more important for children with autism. The day may come when these kids are in school, in the locker room, no parent around, and they have to change into or out of their gym clothes. If the clothing is designed with them in mind, and all the obstacles are removed, they should have more success. With success comes a wonderful feeling of independence. The child’s confidence is boosted. I’ve seen posts on Facebook by parents who are ” over the moon” because their child reached a new milestone – they dressed themself. The parents I read about on Facebook tend to cherish and celebrate every milestone that their child accomplishes.
There is another category of special needs clothing that I have not yet addressed: compression clothing. Compression garments are designed to hug the shoulders, trunk, or hips. It has been shown that compression clothing has a calming effect on kids with sensory disorders. The feeling of being hugged can increase endorphin levels and decrease heart rate and blood pressure. Children wearing this clothing will usually exhibit improved physical awareness and a sense of security. While remaining stylish and fun, the technology incorporated in each garment provides proprioceptive and tactile sensory input. The compression comforts children with highly sensitive nervous systems. Importantly, these garments are made from soft and tactile pleasing fabrics. There are no tags, zippers or buttons.
It’s great to know the clothing industry has started paying attention to the needs of the autistic community. What we need now are more designers to get on board!