Clothing for Autistic Children: Why Does My Child Hate Clothes So Much?

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Written by Shalev White

Everyone has to wear clothes. You may have found yourself thinking, “please, just wear anything, and please let it be clean.”  Then there are the clothes they will wear.  These can be a very small selection, and leave you doing frequent laundry.  They may even have their favorite shirt or pair of jeans and absolutely refuse to wear any other alternative.  This lands you questions from other people about your “financial needs”.  You may or may not be struggling financially, but you have six other shirts at home that your child refuses to wear, and at a certain point, you just need to leave the house.

Perspective of One Autistic Person

I’ve experienced this from both sides, and it’s frustrating for both the parent and the child.  When I was younger, there were two shirts that were my favorite.  They were the softest material.  It felt like wearing a cloud.  It was glorious.  I never felt the stitching and the tags had fallen out of them.  These shirts were so old and worn that my mother begged me to throw them out, but I would cry that they were the best shirts and that I needed them and would show her that they still fit me perfectly.  Eventually, after me crying for so long, she just said we would get rid of them later.

I loved these shirts so much that I would wear them multiple times in a week, but always left two days in between each shirt so that it didn’t look like I was wearing them too often.  This still left me with the bad shirt days, and I couldn’t wait to get to my good shirts.  I thought I was being clever with my system, but apparently I wasn’t good enough because a bag of clothes was sent home with me from an anonymous person at school.  My mother was livid.  To her, this anonymous bag of clothes told her that she was poor and not providing enough for me.

As an adult, I will find a shirt that I like, and then buy it in every color.  I have a favorite pair of jeans, and yes, I wear them multiple days in a row.  People will tell me that I seem to have my own uniform, which is a little true.  I do tend to wear similar clothes often.  There are a few reasons for this, but one of them is because I know this particular outfit is comfortable and doesn’t cause me sensory issues throughout the day.

Shopping can be super frustrating, because I’m always feeling everything and trying on everything.  Even if it fits right, it may not feel right.  There may be a tag that feels like a piece of wood stabbing me, stitching that scratches and irritates my skin, or a certain part of the material that I can’t tolerate.  This is one of the reasons I prefer shopping by myself, because I don’t like feeling the anxiety of people waiting for me.

Perspective of One Autistic Mother

I’ve had fun watching my son with this.  I understand the frustration of just needing him to wear clothes so you can leave, but it’s so adorable to listen to him ask for the “new one shirt”, which is the new shirt he got as a birthday present.  I know it makes him happy, and he’s asking me for that.  I have two versions of that shirt and I try to make it available to him, while encouraging him to try other ones and tell me what he thinks.  I’ve got him to wear undershirts so that we can preserve his favorite top shirts and he can wear them more often.

How You Can Help Your Autistic Child With Clothing

I understand clothing for every Autistic child will be different.  Please remember that these are suggestions.  These will also just be focused on the sensory aspect of clothing.  There are other issues with clothing, such as routine that aren’t discussed here.

  1. Tags

    We all hate tags. You hate tags. I hate tags. We all hate tags. Get clothes without tags. I understand this isn’t always possible, but if it is, do it! This is more the case for clothing that is next to the body. A tag on a jacket might not be that big an issue.

  2. Let Them Feel It

    Let your child feel the clothing. This may take patience on your part, but I promise it will be worth it. We need time to feel the material, the stitching, the pockets, the zippers, and the buttons before we decide to try it on. After that we can then move on to trying on the clothes.

  3. Relax

    I know it may feel like you need to expand the clothing that they wear, but they will be happier if you allow them to wear the clothing that makes them comfortable. I know you want your child to be happy and not have tons of anxiety. So don’t stress too much about them wearing the same clothing and doing laundry often.

  4. Buy Multiples

    If you find an item that your kid loves to wear, buy multiple versions of it in multiple colors. Your kid may look like they have a certain uniform, but they will be happy and less irritated.

  5. Laundry Soap

    If you haven’t already figured out that laundry soap might be an issue, then I’ll just let you know that besides the scent factor that can upset certain Autistic people, laundry soap can also change the feel of the clothes. I hate powder laundry soap for this reason. I don’t really understand why, but powdered laundry soap makes the clothes feel wrong, not necessarily stiff or scratchy, but just wrong.

Your child might not be able to fully describe why certain things bother them, but if they are able to communicate that it bothers them, then listen to that.  I sometimes don’t know why things bother me.  I just know that they do, and I want them to go away.

Testing Autistalline Glasses:

(Disclaimer (this section will be the same in all blog posts) I was given an tester pair of Autistalline, Autistic Sensory Overload glasses. They are for investigational purposes only and are not available for commercial use since they are not yet FDA-Approved. I write about my experiences with the glasses and all experiences and opinions of Autistalline Glasses are my own. I am not paid to test the glasses on me or my son. I am compensated for writing blogs and producing content. All contents in the blogs I write and post on this website are actual recounts of my daily experiences as an individual diagnosed with Autism. Each experience will vary from person to person with Autism. Any content contained in this blog is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, care and treatment. Please consult your healthcare provider.)

When wearing the glasses, I’ve noticed that clothing doesn’t bother me as much.  I think it still bothers me more than most people, but I’m definitely better with more materials.  Stitching and tags can still be problems, but if the tag is soft enough I don’t seem to mind.  I do still like to wear the same kind of clothes often, but I think that has more to do with my love of routines than clothing sensitivities.  Being able to wear clothes and not constantly shift and think about how amazing it will be once they are off is great.  It’s one less thing for my brain to think about.