“I Can’t Wear That!” Autism Sensory Issues

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Remember the fun of getting ready to go back to school?

Each year had new possibilities.  As a kid, I changed schools a lot.  From public to private to public, then we moved, next year redistricted, moved…Didn’t matter.  Wherever I was I have always been a lover of new school supplies.  New notebooks, new pencils, new pens – every year and any year.  I was in the same high school all 4 years and was always excited to see what friends would be in my classes.  And of course, every year there was new back to school clothes.

Somehow, this novelty has worn off.

Today, my husband and I decided to have THE conversation with our daughter.  One that, for me, was filled with such fun and excitement, but has somehow through the past few years has turned into something very complicated.

“Cate, do you want any back to school clothes?”

Catelyn has had sensory issues with her clothes since she was 3.  No buttons, no zippers, nothing but cotton, NO JEANS, no long sleeves, no coats in cars.  Shoes, geez – nothing too tight.  And you would be surprised how many shoes that cuts off the list.  She likes shoes that tie, but will not tie them so they do not touch her foot.

In the summer, Cate wears the same shirt, different color, on rotation.  2 pairs of the same shorts are worn on rotation.  In the winter, its black leggings.  Cate will not wear long sleeves, but thankfully I found a shirt pattern and fabric she has approved and will sew her shirts for her.

Never try to replace a pair of shorts or leggings that have been overworn.  Same pants, same brand, same size will still feel “weird.”  This past spring I went to do a clean out of old clothes.  In Cate’s dresser I collected a whole bag of clothes from previous back to school shopping, Christmas gifts, “oh, there is a hole in your pants let me replace them,” out with family shopping – all the clothes still had their tags on them.

Those clothes just didn’t feel right once they came home.  And she didn’t want to cause a fight, so she just never told us.

Sensory issues are tough.  I wrote about sensory issues with food before, found here.  Every one in this house is a picky eater.  For me?  I’m a vegetarian, so please don’t pass the meat.  My husband and kids only eat about 10 things each.  And of course what fun would it be if they weren’t all 10 different things.  Given the choice of a non-preferred food or no food, all would choose no food.  If food is forced in some way, like a bribe – well, in this house you will see that food on the kitchen table seconds after it is eaten.

I have learned that with sensory issues, they can’t be forced.  The mental block can be very strong.  At Disney World 4 years ago, Catelyn was having issues with her clothes.  Catelyn was 4 then, and oh so excited to meet and greet all of the Disney Princesses.  Until her clothes didn’t feel right.  We told her she needed to pick something to wear or she would be stuck staying in her bedroom all day.

She said, “Okay..” and left for her bedroom.  The sensory issues are that strong.

Today we faced the sensory issue.  We asked the complicated question.  And Catelyn’s initial response: “No.  I don’t want any back to school clothes.”

I knew Catelyn wanted new back to school clothes.  We have been out back to school shopping in the past 2 weeks a few times, only to leave the stores empty-handed and with Catelyn frowning.  She didn’t like the clothes, the cuts, the colors, the buttons, the zippers.  I was sad to see her sad, but glad she did not buy something that I would find next year with the tag still on it.

So we thought outside the box and went to our local sporting goods store.  We found some great cotton sports shirts, great cotton sports shorts – NOTHING PINK (kind of sad to see her once favorite color be completely shunned).  And the best thing we found – Catelyn’s smile!

She didn’t buy some new hot fad.  She didn’t buy something to make me glad.  She did buy something that made her feel totally rad!

Trying something new takes time.  Sometimes a lot of time to reach the willingness to try.  I have learned to be patient.  Change takes time.  Catelyn smiled over clothes today!  She thanked us for taking her out shopping today.  She thanked God at dinner time prayer for her new clothes.  And I am so hopeful for Cate – that she is able to feel that back to school excitement, ready for a fresh start, feeling confident and happy walking through those school doors on the first day.



5 thoughts on ““I Can’t Wear That!” Autism Sensory Issues

  1. I am a former high school English teacher where I had a life-changing experience with an autistic high schooler. He had social anxiety to the point he would cover his head most of the time as a freshmen. The kids and teachers were so good to him that by the time he graduated, he didn’t even carry his hoodie anymore. Each child is so amazing no matter what their situation. They teach us as your daughter is doing for you. God bless!

  2. Thank you for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbor were just preparing to do some research about this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more from this post. I am very glad to see such fantastic information being shared freely out there.

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