You would think that clothes would be one of the areas where kids with autism and others would not be too different. There isn't an autism uniform. But as I was thinking today when shopping for Janey, there are actually a lot of issues involved in clothes.
First of all, there's the toilet training issue. Janey is not fully trained. She is much better than she used to be, but far from completely successful at using the potty. That causes a couple clothes problems. One is the need to make her clothes easy to get off, for her or for anyone else helping her with the bathroom. Elastic waists are important. You can't use belts or complicated flies or buckles. Also, not many clothes for an 8 year old are made to work well with diapers (or pullups, or overnights, or the various names diapers for bigger kids are called). She needs high waisted pants that aren't extra tight. Today's fashion seems to call for low waists, and so many pants I've tried for her don't cover the pullup. She also has lots of accidents, even with pullups on, that cause her clothes to be soaked. So the clothes need to be easily washable---no hand wash sweaters or the like.
Then there's her habit of mouthing things or fidgeting around with things. Clothes can't have anything easily pulled off or put in the mouth, like hanging decorations or big buttons. Zip front hoodies or tops or sweaters are also a very bad idea. I don't know how many times Janey has ruined a zipper on first wearing of a piece, by zipping and unzipping all day long and getting it stuck. She also occasionally gets into biting her sleeves---thankfully not all the time, but when she does, you need some thick sleeves to not rip them all to pieces right away.
The next thought is age-appropriateness. In one way, it's a mother's dream to have a child that doesn't have clothing preferences and knows nothing about fashion. I can dress her however I want. However, that can mean that I dress her unlike her peers, because that's what I like. I am not going to dress her like a mini-streetwalker, as fashion sometimes seems to dictates for even pre-teens lately, but I don't want to dress her all in cute little outfits that would look good on a 2 year old either. I try to keep a little eye on what other girls her age are wearing, and get her clothes that are somewhat like them, within reason. But if I mess up, and dress her in some horrible fashion no-no, she's not going to notice and tell me. It's all on me.
And then there's just little oddities she has. She is not nearly as tactilely defensive as I know a lot of kids with autism are, so the textures of the clothes are not as important as with some kids like her, but she occasionally just doesn't like something, and won't wear it. Which is of course something all kids do, but with Janey, I have no idea why, and so can't learn from it to avoid getting her other clothes like the offensive one. She also gets, once in a long while, hugely attacted to a certain piece. For a long time, it was a rainbow top, with rows of sparkly rainbow sequins. I hated it, of course, but she managed to find it all the time, even in laundry baskets, and had no understanding of dirty clothes or clean clothes or weather---she just knew she wanted it on.
Janey's favorite thing to wear, though, is as little as possible. As she get older, we are getting stricter about her keeping her clothes on. I guess a lot of kids on the spectrum like to do a Lady Godiva act, but she is getting close to the age where it just can't ever happen. She does seem to get that she can't take off clothes at school, but at home, she still often tries. Last summer, we came in from playing outside the minute she tried to take off any clothing, and I hope that made an impression on her. It's a struggle.
Still, with all of this, I am thrilled to have a little girl to dress. I have to admit, after two boys, it was one of my first thoughts when I found out Janey was a girl that finally I would be able to have a reason to look at the dresses in stores! And I have had a lot of fun dressing her over the years, and I will in the future. It's one of those areas with a trade-off. I'm not going to having to forbid clothes much. They will be up to me. And I hope I do a good job being Janey's dresser.