Wears the Same Clothes

Question:

I am a Special Education Tutor for children with ASD.  A six year old boy I work with has recently begun to insist upon wearing the same shirt every day. I do not think it is a sensory issue because he several of the same shirts only in different colors.  He often begins tantruming if he is not allowed to wear this shirt. I have written a social story about this stating that kids wear different clothes on different days. Also, we are starting off slow, only 2 days without the favorite blue shirt(there is a calendar to help him with this) Is there anything else I should/could do?

Suggestions:

Is this insistence a recent thing? Did it begin in November or December? This may be a reaction to the altered routines we see at school as the holidays approach.

Many people with autism become uncomfortable when life is less predictable. Often they react to this uncertainty by clinging to rituals or obsessions. When life seems out of control, we all gravitate toward things that are in our power and things that give us comfort. This is amplified for a child with autism who finds it difficult to deal with change and to make sense out of the world around him.

When he comes back from the holidays, he’ll likely have difficulty dropping his holiday routine and adjusting back into his school schedule. He may still cling to the same shirt or pick up a new ritual to help calm himself.

I understand how you’d reason that this is not a sensory issue when he has the same shirts in other colors that he could wear. But, this may be more than just the way the shirt feels. It may be how it looks or a combination

of color and feel. Some people with ASD are very sensitive visually and colors have a large effect on them. Perhaps that’s the case with your student. Donna Williams, a woman with autism talks about her visual sensitivies in her book called Somebody, Somewhere.

Social stories are a good way to handle this but from what you say, they may not have been that effective so far. You are making progress though if he’s only wearing the shirt three days out of five.

Limiting his obsession as you are doing is also another good thing to try. And, using a visual like a calendar is a positive step.

Is he actually wearing the same shirt each day or does he own several identical shirts?

What does his family say about this struggle? Is getting is off him and into the laundry a problem?

I know a boy with autism who insisted on wearing the same garments. He also drooled. When many days worth of saliva pooled and dried onto his sweatshirt and coat, he’d repeatedly bring the cloth to his nose and

inhale deeply. He enjoyed strong olfactory stimulation (although those around him did not share in his enjoyment).

We tried many behavioral methods to get him to accept clean clothing but had little success. What worked best was substituting other strong smells. Scented markers and stickers held little interest for him. What did work was giving him frequent sensory body breaks and allowing him frequent access to play dough we cooked using cherry flavored kool aid.

Is the shirt clean? Perhaps approaching your social story from a cleanliness angle might have more of an effect than emphasizing his appearance. Could he be convinced to wear an alternative shirt while his is being laundered at home or at school?

As with all kids, we need to pick our battles. Is this a battle that should be fought at this time? With teenagers, clothing tends to be a major social issue. But at six, is it as crucial? Do his peers notice and comment? Is wearing the same shirt limiting your student’s social opportunities? If the shirt is clean and the sameness is not bothering the other students, perhaps the issue will resolve itself as you concentrate on other social skills.

 

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