5 Clothing Tips for High Functioning Autism

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I was talking with a friend whose children were my age.  She had caught me at a moment when I was frustrated with my daughter for not finding anything to wear.  We were stuck at the house, waiting for her to find something that didn’t feel “weird.”

My daughter, Catelyn, had not been diagnosed with High Functioning Autism at this time.  I was frustrated with her behavior.  I felt she was being argumentative and difficult.

I looked at my friend and wondered how one would make someone else wear something.  If I physically dressed Catelyn, she would just undress herself.  Some clothes made Catelyn squirm so bad it was like she had been sprayed with flesh-eating ants.

Catelyn’s issues with clothes made us late for many events.  There were times I would find her already sitting in the car, hoping I would not notice her outfit did not fit the outing (like a tank top to go sledding).  We would argue, and have to wait for her to find something that didn’t feel “weird.”

Seeing Catelyn so physically bothered by her clothes, I did not force her to wear things she was unable to.  But that meant a lot of trial and error in finding clothes that worked.  Here is what works for Catelyn:

5 Clothing Tips for High Functioning Autism

Catelyn has sensory issues with her clothes.  But with High Functioning Autism, she also has control issues.  So both areas need to be addressed for her to dress.


The clothes have to be soft.  No tags.  I found a free sewing pattern of a shirt that works for her and I sew her short sleeve shirts to wear in the winter.  The fabric I choose for her is a jersey knit or a stretch knit.  Cotton pants.  There are no buttons, no zippers, no bows, no bumps, no variations in fabric and no long sleeves.


Catelyn likes her clothes to fit her body.  There are 2 kinds of sensory kids.  Sensory seekers and sensory avoiders.  Both of my children with autism are sensory seekers.

The issue being with their sense of proprioception – their body’s awareness of where it is in space.  Like Declan, Catelyn is also sensory seeking, except for her it is in her clothes.  She needs to feel them right next to her skin.


Here is where Cate’s issues with control come in to play.  Catelyn only wears 7 things.  If I see a pair of black leggings are getting worn out, I go to the store and buy the same exact pair.  No problem, right?  Nope.  They feel “weird.”

If Cate needs a new pair of black leggings she needs to go to the same store and pick them out herself.  Give her control and I can say goodbye to a worn out pair of pants.


Even if she picks them out, sometimes the clothes can feel “weird.”  Wash the new clothes and they become softer.  Less itchy.

We are still potty training Declan, but to get him to even consider wearing a pair of underwear they have to be soft.  New undies have to be washed for him to even try them on.


For everyone.  Catelyn is learning to be flexible in her thinking.  We are all learning to be flexible in her clothing, as we talked about here.

I do not buy her new clothes.  I do not force her to wear sleeves, sweaters or sweatshirts – all of which she refuses to wear anyway.  She still dresses sensibly – no shorts are allowed in the winter – but to her ability.


We do not argue about clothes (as much) in this house.  Catelyn has High Functioning Autism and can be very resistant.  She has issues with control.  She sees the world a certain way and will argue until she feels she has gained control of a situation, which doesn’t usually happen.  Then she feels out of control.

“I would just make her wear it” does not work well here.

The best thing for me to do is to avoid a power struggle with her.  If I take a step back I can see that she is feeling anxious about something and is not trying to misbehave.  Instead of fighting with her and exacerbating an anxious “I feel out of control” child, I need to try to understand how she is feeling.   And help her feel good in the clothes she feels comfortable wearing.

Cause, if Catelyn feels good on the outside, she will feel good on the inside.




9 thoughts on “5 Clothing Tips for High Functioning Autism

  1. Your blog is so enlightening as to the complexities you face on a daily basis, love learning more. I admire you and your family so much in fact I would go as far as to say that you are all truly gifted in this lifetime. Some people won’t understand that comment, but I hope you do. ?

      1. I think that we are put on earth to carry out certain tasks, you are very blessed with your family and as such I hold you in very high esteem. God never gives us more than we can handle. You should feel very proud of yourself x

  2. Makes absolute sense to me! I hate itchy clothing, too. Every new piece of clothes has to be washed until it feels good. Drives my husband nuts, since he is the one who does the laundry.

    I suggest you avoid any polyester clothing with your kids. (Easier said than done these days!) That material doesn’t give or let the body breathe at all. Am a 100% cotton fan, myself. Good thing you are able to sew for your kids.

  3. We have so much to learn about communication from our children, brothers, sisters, cousins, on the autistic spectrum. They give us an opportunity to pause and really connect to what’s important. Thanks for sharing! 😉 xoM

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