Wearing NEW Clothes?! (Autism and Rigidity)

Elizabeth’s most challenging area of behavioral rigidity (difficulty/inability to change or adapt) has always been choosing and wearing clothes. Using specific cups, bowls, and silverware are a close second but CLOTHES are definitely #1.

At the age of two, she could not comfortably wear clothing at all. It was a battle every single day. The sleeves bothered her to the point of tugging and screaming at them (and me) over and over throughout the day. As much as we would help her to fix the problem, she still struggled and screamed. Her pants’ cuffs would feel terrible on her ankles, or they would ride up a little and cause a meltdown. It was awful. She was comfortable at night, however; she wore the exact same thing to bed every night – pink sweatpants and a white t-shirt. I had four or five of each. Eventually, I had to just let her stay in her pajamas all day. Because of that, most photos from that time period are of her in pajamas.

When she was two and a half, I pursued finding something she could wear that wouldn’t bother her. An “outfit” or “uniform.” And I was successful! I bought gray and navy boys’ joggers from OshKosh and a variety of plain t-shirts from Hobby Lobby. 100% cotton was my goal because that’s what *I’ve* always found to be the most comfortable. No tags, no designs, just cotton. And it worked! She was finally happy in her clothes!! She would let me change her into one of the pairs of pants and one of the shirts every morning without a problem. It was so life-changing for us! She wore the same basic outfits for about six months.

Between three and three and half, she began wearing a few dresses routinely but it was pretty problematic because we had to try to always have them clean. She also started insisting on taking her dress off when using her diaper. She would finish, I would change her diaper, and get her back in her dress. After a while, she got to the point that she would only wear a dress when leaving the house because she would take the dress off all the time. I think we let this go on for several weeks before insisting that she leave her clothes on (she could still take them off to use a diaper but then had to get dressed again after being changed).

She would still wear the gray pants and a few of the shirts, but she would not wear the navy pants nor some of the colors of shirts. It became a battle again but at least she still had some favorites.

Just before turning three and a half, I bought some OshKosh pajamas in a handful of prints and colors that I hoped would appeal to her because she was still wearing the white t-shirt and pink sweats that she had worn for over a year and I was trying to move forward (eventually, she would grow out of them and I wanted to prevent that from becoming a BIG problem). She ended up liking two of the new designs and rejecting the rest. Then, after a bit, she rejected one of those as well and we were stuck with just ONE design she would accept. She would have a complete emotional meltdown if we offered or insisted that she wear something else to bed. So I went back and bought four or five more sets of the pink one with unicorns. Thank goodness we could afford to do this! I don’t know how terrible life would have been if one of older children had been so restrictive because we wouldn’t have been able to buy extras of things like that.

In the winter, we had a hard time with cold weather clothes. As in, she wouldn’t wear anything but her regular outfit (remember, it is short-sleeved) so we were limited on where we could go. You might be thinking, well just let her cry, she’ll stop eventually…but you’d be wrong. One thing I learned early on with Elizabeth – and it was one of the first signs of autism with her, actually – is that she will just keep screaming, keep crying, completely meltdown for absolute ages. She doesn’t “give up” or “give in.” It wasn’t/isn’t a manipulation, either. Once melting down, she wouldn’t stop even if we tried to give her what she wanted. There is something quite different about the way someone with autism reacts to things they are rigid about. They need help, not punishment or judgement. They need help becoming more comfortable because THEY are miserable.

From three and a half to four years (just before and during the beginning of the pandemic), she wore somewhat of a variety of things. She wore a few dresses, her gray pants and dark pink t-shirt, and her pink unicorn pajamas. We had an issue with her bathing suit in the summer months because the design came off in the wash and she absolutely refused to wear it even though swimming was her favorite activity. I ended up buying another one (thankfully, it was only about $10 at Walmart).

She turned four at the end of June. Things had pretty much remained the same as they were in early 2020 until this last week. Now, maybe it’s because she has been sick, but she has worn TWO new things since last Friday!! It had been MONTHS (years?) since she’d done that!! I decided I would take her pink shirts and dresses out of her closet and instead, put a few of Maggie’s old clothes in there in hopes that she would be “forced” into choosing one if she wanted to go on the outing we’d had planned. I have tried this before and it didn’t work but it was awhile ago so I wanted to try again. And it worked this time! She actually chose one of her little sister’s dresses that is just a tad too short, but I let her wear it because at least she was choosing something NEW!

We were all so shocked that she actually put on different clothes! O_O It was wonderful to see her something new. And then, a few days later I had to take her to the doctor and she chose a new shirt to wear with her gray pants!!

It has been a really difficult thing to parent a child with such rigidity because I never know what’s going to happen next, if I’ll be able to get her new shoes that she agrees to, if she is going to be wearing diapers that are different once she outgrows the ones she’s worn for years, etc.

And I have only found a few examples of children online whose rigidity is clothing so there is little to no advice to be found.

I hope this gives any parent out there who doesn’t know if there’s hope for a situation like this – that THERE IS. I didn’t know if/when I would ever see her in different clothing. Keep trying. Keep working with your little one. Have hope. ๐Ÿ™‚

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