While reading the book “Be Different” by John Elder Robison, many things caught my attention that seemed to reflect Konner’s actions. One of these issues was in a chapter entitled Underwear With Teeth. Robison really hit on some issues we’ve had with Konner. Sensitivity to clothing is common among children on the spectrum. This is due to oversensitivity to touch.
Robison opens the chapter with, “Can you feel the labels on your underwear right now? I can. I can also feel seams on the inside of my shirt and pants. At this very moment the tags in the collar of my shirt are gnawing at my neck. Luckily, I have taught myself to ignore those feelings most of the time. Otherwise, they would drive me crazy.”
This sums up what many people with autism feel. They squirm in their seats, tug at their shirts, and are constantly over stimulated because of things that you and I can only imagine.
I think that if we had that sensation in our lives constantly it would drive us crazy too. I can think about a few occasions where I had to cut the tag out of my shirt because it was scratching my neck so much I thought I was going to go nuts. I can’t imagine this feeling constantly.
For Konner, tags have been an issue. He will usually tell us that he wants the tags cut out of his shirts if they are bothering him. Now days shirts are being made with the brand printed on the inside instead of a tag. This has cut down on the sensory issues.
We did have a shirt though that had embroidery on it and the backing on the inside rubbed and caused issues. He wouldn’t wear the shirt.
This is more of an issue for children who are non-verbal. They can’t express their frustration with these scratchy labels.
Robison said, “Sharp little fibers are biting into my back. The label on my shirt is scratching my neck. The more I think about it, the more I feel. Soon, I may have to tear all these clothes right off.”
Konner makes it a habit to strip down to his underwear as soon as he walks in the door of some place familiar. This includes home, grandma’s house, and Nana’s house. However, this has become somewhat of an issue lately. While the comfort of home, or homelike situations is fine, when it begins to happen in public you may have a problem. For example, recently we went to a cub scout meeting at the Assembly of God Church in Panama. Since I’m the first one there I was walking around turning on lights, and as I turned around I saw Konner with his pants around his ankles. I asked, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m taking my clothes off.” Well duh! So I had to have a talk with him about taking his clothes off in public places.
The point Robison was trying to make was that, unless you want to continue to deal with stripping in public, you need to teach yourself or your child to deal with these issues. This is why he has forced himself to wear clothes no matter how much they irritate him.
While I don’t necessarily agree with Robison, I do understand his point. He said that, “Instead of fixing my clothes, I fixed myself.” This means that he has trained himself to cope with the scratching and irritation. I agree that this is the ultimate goal, for your child to desensitize their clothing irritations. However, with Konner, that is something we’re going to try and deal with later. We have so many more obstacles at this point. It doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem at this point. When you have a child on the spectrum you have to pick your fights. This is one I won’t be picking soon.
Robison does admit that he wears his underwear inside out though so that the seams don’t cut into him as much anymore.
There are a couple of other issues that some parents overlook when dressing their children, myself included. One thing to look for is clothes that are too tight and could be biting into their waistline. You may also want to check socks and make sure that they don’t bunch in their shoes. This could feel like a pebble in their shoe all day.
Remember that, for a child with sensory issues, comfort is more important than style.
Some things to do to try and help your child are to figure out what sensory issues they have, and then use therapy to deal with it. This is where an occupational therapist and/or sensory therapist come in handy. Our OT works with Konner on sensory issues during weekly sessions.
You can also look into sensory diets. A good place to start for this is the book “The Out-of-Sync Child” by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A. This entire book can help with sensory issues. The website www.sensory-processing-disorder.com also has a page for creating a home sensory diet.
If you find a way to cut down on, or eliminate your child’s clothing sensitivities, then you can, theoretically, cut down on the number of meltdowns and outbursts that they may have.
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.