I’ve noticed the above phrase is something that keeps popping up across various groups and communities online, so I thought I would write a blog about my take on this topic.
So okay, I get it. It’s like 9 degrees outside and your child is refusing to put on pants or wear socks or a jumper. They point blank just won’t, and you’re worried about their health.
The thing is..
Firstly; it is a well known fact that autistic individuals have unique sensory systems of their own which mean they experience different types of input in their own unique way. Some don’t feel pain, others feel pain acutely, some have issues with clothing, others don’t, some love to jump, others don’t.. it goes on and on. Wearing clothes is more often than not due to the child’s very own sensory preferences. Maybe they just actually don’t feel the cold. Like, seriously. Fancy that! So they see no need to wear layers as the cool weather doesn’t personally affect them. Or maybe they don’t like the way the warmer clothes feel on their skin, even though these clothes may feel fine to you. Wool can be itchy, loose clothing or those with tassels can be annoying and tickle, fleece can make them sweat, perhaps they feel restricted and maybe wearing certain clothes actually hurts them. It isn’t your body, you aren’t feeling it yourself so you don’t get to force the point.
I get that you’re concerned, because their reaction to the cooler weather isn’t the same as yours. But that’s where this next point comes in..
Secondly; there is the important issue of consent. This is to say, that every child is in control of their own bodies and their own choices regarding their body. This is something that I often see discounted when it comes to autistic kids, and something I find very alarming. I have read of other parents forcing their children to wear warmer clothes, physically holding them down and forcing these warmer clothes onto their children. This is not okay. Every child has the right to feel safe and respected in their body and have their body and personal space respected by others. Forcing clothing that others deem acceptable, simply due to different neurology – is unacceptable. You might not understand it necessarily and you may not feel the same but autism means individuals think, feel, see and process things differently. Consent still applies here.
So what can you do? Well, here are a few approaches that may help:
- Educate your child about the weather. Create a visual weather chart with pictures and removable indicators: cold, rainy, hot, windy. Provide examples of suitable clothing choices for each type of weather. Play games about the weather, read books about the weather and pay attention together about what clothing options might be better suited for the variety of seasons.
- Encourage tactile exploration and play in a no-pressure, fun environment. By this I mean, offer opportunities for your child to get messy with their hands and body. A lot of the time clothing refusal is due to tactile hypersensitivity – so the things that touch our skin have a greater effect. By playing with a variety of sensory experiences, it can gently acclimatise and build tolerance for the body. I’m talking slime, sand, rice trays, play doh, finger painting, cooking, gardening, ooblek.. you get the gist. This book is a fantastic resource for ideas. Make it fun!
- Give the child some control. You can do this by taking them with you shopping, encouraging them to touch different clothes and exposing them to a variety of textiles. Find out what they like, find out what they don’t – and go from there.
And really, try and relax. Because at the end of the day it isn’t actually possible to catch a cold from the cold. Just make sure your child is getting a daily dose of vitamin D on their skin!
Have you seen my series of posts which explore the sensory system? Check out part 1 here.