Since my husband and I have two daughters, this is the time of year that I dread. The back-to-school budget at our house could easily make one or two car payments, and it’s not all Trapper Keepers and loose leaf paper. It’s the stupid clothes. Even if your child isn’t a diva-in-training, the shoes alone could break the bank. Then go back and factor in that diva, the pint-sized Coco Chanel who has to finger every fabric for quality and wrinkle her nose at every outfit before proclaiming, “Don’t they have any cute clothes in this store?” It’s a nightmare in more ways than one.
For Carrie, clothing has a whole other set of issues. It has to be a fabric that won’t irritate her skin or make her unable to focus. It can’t cause a meltdown because the tag is bothering her. It also can’t be something she will take off for now reason when no one is watching her (that hasn’t happened since preschool, but she spent much of her three and four-year-old years having various teachers put her clothes back on her because she wasn’t able to tell me which fabrics bothered her).
Even more importantly (and I’m sorry, Carrie, that this is on the entire internet), she still struggles from time to time with bathroom issues. She can usually handle the process herself in terms of getting to the bathroom on time (usually) and using the facilities. But getting her pants on and off are still issues because she struggles with multi-step directions. When she’s already desperately focused on having to go potty, the last thing she needs is a belt, a difficult button, and a zipper. When she’s finished, she often forgets to pull up the panties first, so they end up bunched around her poor tiny rear end inside the pants she just pulled up.
Fashion to the rescue! When I shop for Carrie, I take into account these things that she will need during the day. Face it, it does not matter how cool (or expensive) that outfit is if she has an accident in front of her classmates. At the same time, I’m not going to put her in sweatpants and a T-shirt every day just in case she might have a problem. Autism or not, she’s a fourth grade girl and it’s wrong for me to assume that she doesn’t want to look like the other girls or fit in by wearing cool, stylish clothes.
Luckily, jeggings are popular. Even luckier, Carrie has a body type that British supermodels would sell their souls for. I buy Carrie stretch skinny jeans that are elastic all the way around the top (no buttons, no zippers), then pair that with a really fancy top that comes down over the waistband so know one can tell she’s not wearing zipper pants. She can wear a belt, by I make sure it’s a belted top so the belt really isn’t part of the pants equation. I’ve tried helping Carrie spruce up her outfits with accessories, but I’ve found out that she won’t wear a necklace or bracelet for long, so we really go for glittery and stylish hair clips and earrings.
Here’s where I’m going to say something UGLY, and I don’t care: I’ve met way too many parents of special needs kids who dress their children like they’ve given up. Old T-shirts and worn-out pants are the mainstay of these kids’ wardrobes. And there’s nothing wrong with comfortable, favorite clothes, and there’s especially nothing wrong with letting a child with stress issues wear something familiar that makes her calm. But she can’t wear that outfit forever. On the one hand, maybe she loves that T-shirt. On the other hand, the parents may be accidentally sending an underlying message: you’re not normal, so why bother?
Carrie isn’t like the other kids in her class in a lot of ways, but at the same time, she may want to be like the other kids. How I dress her can be one of those ways that I help her fit in and give her a chance to just be like the other kids.