Any form of ASD makes dressing a chore. We don't like to wear anything that doesn't have just the right texture or fit. A rough tag can send a kid with autism into a fit. I maimed a few shirts trying to chop out tags which quite literally rubbed me the wrong way when I was a kid.
Where I once would get tired from only an hour of shopping, I can now go up to seven hours in a stretch, with breaks. A lot of Aspies won't get up to that point - I'm not as sensitive to crowds as most are and enjoy looking around. However, after that seven hour shopping experience I'll come away with maybe a shirt and a pair of pants or shoes. The trying on isn't so much a problem for me as the actually liking it enough to buy is.
Here are some tips for those of you going shopping with your Aspie child/spouse/relative/friend:
- For Aspies: Dress simply when you go! You might love that buckled coat and complicatedly tied sneakers, but when clothes shopping you're going to want something something which is easy to take on and off over and over. I recommend flats, sandals or velcro sneakers, jeans or sweats and a tee or longsleeved shirt. If you're wearing a jacket, try for hoodies or zippered parkas as they're easy to pull on and off without taking time to fuss over buttons.
- Go on off-days, especially if you or your Aspie are overstimulated by crowds and noises. Friday through Sunday are apt to be the most crowded, as are holidays that most people have off (Labor day, etc). Try for a mid-week day off and go in the morning or afternoon.
- Think ahead. If it's going to be loud or bright, try bringing earplugs, headphones or sunglasses. Pack a hat or something comforting to hold or stim against. You'll look a little funny, but weird looks are better than panic attacks.
- Think about what we wear already. Chances are your aspie has found a style that they're comfortable with and would like to stick with that. Sometimes it's okay to venture outside of that comfort zone if it's related to our interests or close to the current style or fit, but respect that we usually know what we like and dislike trying on things that are probably going to be uncomfortable.
- Especially if you're with a child, feel the clothing and check for tags. A lot more stores are making tagless clothing and some have wide, soft tags which are easily tolerated, but textures can be a huge problem. That sweater might look soft but it could be itchy as all get out once it's on.
- Some often important elements: Size and placement of pockets, presence of a hood, sleeve/pantleg length and fit (some of us can't stand three-quarter-length sleeves or capris), colors and designs.
- Take frequent breaks. Most of us don't want to go through a six-hour clothes shopping run. We get worn down and annoyed from taking things on and off and are more likely to shut down. Do two or three stores and take a break. Go look at video games or eat a snack, then return. You might not get it all done in one day.
- With kids, offer incentive. Not necessarily a bribe like a new game or book, but something small afterward, like watching a movie related to their special interest with them or a favorite food for dinner.
- Try alternative means of shopping. Thrift stores, websites and garage sales can all work. A plus of thrift stores is that the clothing is worn down and washed already so it probably won't be as stiff as it would be new, and you can find more things than what's just "in" right now. These environments are often much quieter than a mall or big store as well. Be careful with websites as you can't feel for texture or fit on them - find one with a good return policy.