The right clothing means independence

Uniforms are great. They help children focus on important things rather than having the most current outfit or following expensive clothing trends. Uniforms are especially good for children with autism.

Having a routine of clothes laid out for a child the evening before can simplify life. Room 623 had a nice shirt routine of Monday red, Tuesday yellow, Wednesday red, Thursday white or a university shirt and Friday a red T-shirt. Pants or dresses were usually tan in color though blue was okay too. The children in Room 623 liked the clothing’s predictability. Their expectations of what to wear each day did better when choices did not have to be made.

The hard part of any clothing routine was getting the right type of pants and the best kind of shoes on the students. At the beginning of each year, the teacher would ask her parents to consider buying clothing that would lead to independence. That often meant no belts, elastic waist bands on pants and shoes without laces.

Typically, children with autism have some degree of challenge with fine motor skills. Learning to tie laces and taking off belts are skills that used to be taught in school and home. Today, most of the school work children are doing is more academic in nature. Learning how to dress generally will occur in the home now, though not always.

One of the main daily needs that the teacher wanted for all of her students was independence in the restroom. She also didn’t want them tripping over shoe laces. The teacher was worried about one of her students in particular.

Tony only came into her class for social skills and health one hour each day. The rest of the day he was in general education classes or resource. Tony was big for his age and had difficulty with fine motor activities. He had occupational therapy services to help him with his hand writing skills. The therapist did work with Tony on buttoning skills. The problem was Tony still couldn’t do the skill independently. The boy also had big feet and his mother was sending him to school with high top tennis shoes.

The teacher spoke to Tony’s parents to discuss the challenges the boy was having with his clothing. Tony was getting a bit too old not to know how to tie his shoes. Plus, his clothing was often tight and the boy wasn’t able to undo his buttons easily.

In fact, one day the boy came into the room to ask the teacher for help. Tony was embarrassed because he could not unbutton the buttons on his pants let alone tie his shoes. The parents hadn’t really thought about the difficulty the boy was facing at school.

Fortunately, the family finally bought the boy some nice slide in tennis shoes. Tony also got lots of new pants that still had buttons. However, the elastic waist line made it possible for Tony to take his pants on and off in the privacy of a stall in the bathroom.

The same thing type of challenges were true for another student named Veronica. She would wear darling clothes that literally sparkled. However, the child could not get her pants off or tie her shoes. Veronica’s disabilities made it important for the child to have loose comfortable clothing.

Her parents realized early on when she joined the class to have more appropriate clothing for their daughter. Today’s leggings are perfect for a child to be able to have more independence. Plus, the number of shoes with Velcro give any boy or girl a wonderful selection to choose from. Veronica and Tony were lucky. Their parents understood the need to have comfortable practical clothing for their children.

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at