You might have heard stories about children on the autism spectrum that take off their clothes without reason. Many autistic children loathe clothes; you can find yourself with a naked toddler in your yard, playing on the trampoline without care. Infancy nudity is frowned upon, but teaching autistic children how to keep their clothes on can be difficult.
This type of behavior might persist well beyond an acceptable age. It can cause trouble at school—and become a bigger problem in the future.
Don’t worry—this article explores some strategies that you can use to help your child keep their clothes on and learn new healthy behaviors.
Why Do Autistic Children Undress?
The main reason why so many children with autism spectrum disorder undress are because they are uncomfortable. Even if you’ve chosen comfortable clothing made of natural materials, your child will still feel compelled to take off their clothes.
Most autistic children have sensory challenges, meaning they react strongly to tactile or visual sensations. Loud sounds, crowded places, or strong smells can trigger an overwhelming response in children with ASD. As a result, children with autism might feel anxious and try to remove uncomfortable clothes.
In regards to clothing, children with autism might:
- Be overly sensitive to scratchy seams and tags;
- React to waistbands or clothes that are too tight;
- Dislike loose clothes that are likely to slip off;
- Be allergic to certain materials and react to itchiness;
- Find the pattern of a piece of clothing distressing.
Furthermore, children with an autism spectrum disorder might not be aware of the expectations placed upon them. They also have limited comprehension of emotional cues that neurotypical kids can pick up. Children with ASD might not like the idea of imitating their peers or get frustrated when they don’t understand what’s been asked of them. It’s hard for them to express the discomfort they are feeling.
Continue Reading: 7 Tips for Dressing Sensory Sensitive Children.
How to Help
Since you know the difficulties children with autism face when putting on clothes, how can you deal with this situation? Here are a few strategies you can try.
Identify the Problem
The first step in this process is to identify and adjust the problem. After identifying the problem, you can take active steps to remove whatever is causing the distress.
If your child is verbal, you can simply ask what the issue is. Try to be as specific as possible when asking a question, using phrases such as “Is your shirt too tight?” If your child doesn’t speak, you can try on different outfits to see what they’re more responsive and less responsive to.
Removing all tags and anything that can be pressed against the skin is essential when shopping for new clothes. Snip off any loose strings you might find.
Use Weighted Clothes
Finding the right clothes for autistic children requires experimentation. Some children might like lightweight fabrics, while others dislike fuzzy blankets. However, they might like the deep-pressure stimulation weighted vests, compression clothes, and tight headbands provide.
To help your autistic child manage symptoms more easily, you can use these items of clothing:
- Sensory Compression Vests.
- SmartKnitKIDS Seamless Sensitivity Socks.
- Adaptive Back Zip Convert-A-Foot Sleeper.
- Seamless Comfort Boxer Brief Underwear.
Use Behavioral Modification
Your child might remove clothes not because they are dealing with sensory issues but because they are not “trained” to keep their clothes on. You might need to take on a more behavioral approach and use methods such as:
- Use picture books and social stories to show the steps of getting dressed and why it’s important to do so;
- Point out that other people stay dressed, or you can model the behavior. You can work with an ABA therapist to help you develop some methods for solving this issue.
- Use positive reinforcement for good behavior. You can create a sticker chart, and each time your child keeps their clothes on, they earn a small treat.
Find Practical Solutions
You should find some practical short-term solutions and make it physically impossible for your little one to remove their clothes. You can do this in several ways:
- Dress your child in layers, so it’s harder for them to strip
- Put fasteners in the back, so your little one doesn’t reach them
- Use safety pins to block a zipper from being unzipped
Let Your Child Choose
Some sensory-sensitive children might like to choose their own clothes. It gives them a sense of control, making them more comfortable wearing clothes. Whenever possible, let the child choose their outfit.
It’s important to remember that parents must be flexible with what their children choose to wear. You might need to go with the flow and not be too strict with what your child wears; at the same time, you shouldn’t be too lenient.
Try to find a balance. However, remember not to force your autistic child to wear clothes they dislike. This can have the opposite effect, and your child can become resistant to wearing clothes altogether.
Every autistic child is different and has different needs when it comes to clothing. Parents need to be aware of the issues and choose the appropriate clothes. That’s why you must be patient and understanding and stay calm and positive. Clothing might seem impossible, but it’s an obstacle that can be overcome.
You are not alone in this—many clothes offer sensory-friendly outfits.