Home > Adults with autism, In Their Own Words > In Their Own Words – What Not to Wear, Autism Style

In Their Own Words – What Not to Wear, Autism Style

This “In Their Own Words” essay is by Laura Shumaker. Laura is the author of “A REGULAR GUY: GROWING UP WITH AUTISM.” Join the discussion about her book on Facebook.

It was 103 degrees, the hottest July 3 on record for our community in Northern California. My son Matthew, who is 24 years old and has autism, was getting ready to go the local saloon with his younger brother Andy to sing karaoke, one of his favorite activities.

“I’m ready,” he said, and as I turned to say goodbye, Matthew stood before me in a long sleeve winter wool plaid shirt, khaki pants and dress shoes.

To top off the look, he had cut his bangs too short and tried to hide the botch job with a comb over. He had patches of toilet paper soaked in blood all over his face from shaving.

He was beaming.

“Matthew,” I said, “you really should change into something cooler. It’s really hot … ”

“I look good!” he argued.  “”I’ve been planning on wearing these clothes all week!”

He did look pretty good, at least better than his standard shorts, t-shirt, dark socks and sandals.

Andy shrugged with resignation in the back ground, but insisted that Matthew clean up the shaving cuts before they left.

I asked parents on my  Facebook page to tell me which battles they’ve given up fighting. Most, as you can imagine, had a hard time picking just one.

I have struggled for years over Matthew’s clothing choices and grooming routine. Thankfully, he’s embraced the idea of the importance of physical hygiene (though a little obsessed with a close shave) but the clothing battle is one I’d given up on. As Matthew walked out the door that night, it occurred to me that it was time to help him work on his image. He was, after all, looking to meet some nice girls. He was going to need all the help he could get. The challenge would be finding a way to get the message across without lecturing him.

An idea came to me.

I got the Halloween box out of the attic and fished out some cheap wigs that we’d collected over the years. I convinced Andy to help me put together some “regular” outfits and some oddball outfits enhanced by a Sony Bono mullet and the Morticia wig.

“We’ll make it a game!” I told Andy, “We’ll ask him to pick the outfit that looks the craziest and the one that looks the most regular. ”

“You realize this is going to backfire,” said Andy, “and that he’ll want to start wearing the wigs around.”

And of course that is exactly what happened.

So I’m backing off again. You have to hand it to me for trying. The good news is that Matthew and his social skills counselor are going people watching today at the mall. (Her idea, not mine)

Maybe he’ll get some fashion tips there.

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.


  1. July 20, 2010 at 10:12 am

    For the moment, we’ve given up making our almost 6 year old son leave his favorite blanket at home. We are, however, still working on the thumb sucking and eating habits!

    • Kevin
      July 20, 2010 at 10:55 am

      He sounds a bit like Linus, the wisest and noblest of all the Peanuts. Always a hero of mine growing up ;)

    • Lisa
      July 20, 2010 at 5:02 pm

      You really should check into K48-Plus. Its an Omega 3 from JD Premium. Its all natural, and its changed my friends sons life. http://www.jdpremium.com/lisabloxham Watch the K48-Plus video, it will take 5 mins. Its a 30 day money back guarantee. Promise it works!

  2. July 20, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Great Picture… Very handsome boys! THANK YOU for sharing :-)
    Max loved wearing a winnie the pooh full body costume (sized for 18 mos.) until he was 3 1/2… On the upside I definetly got my monies worth!

    • joyous
      July 24, 2010 at 10:04 am

      My daughter wore “Dorothy shoes” from 18m until she was 8 ! We were buying them 2 or 3 sizes at a time to avoid the challenges that occurred when she outgrew a pair. Solid color 2 piece PJs are still OK even for middle-school, but the “Halloween” outfits had to stay home after kindergarten -regardless of the size of the meltdown.

  3. Leslie Boyd
    July 20, 2010 at 10:16 am

    My son is the same way. We finally succeeded at getting him to drop the warm clothes for the summer but it wasn’t easy. We kept pointing out that other kids were wearing shorts and that he would sweat a lot more in his sweatshirts and sweats. He finally agreed BUT still wears the sweats at night. He also likes to wear the craziest things while using his imagination. He does so many silly things and I watch him in awe because he is completely in his own world and does not notice anyone around him or watching him. He carries on these conversations with himself to. He does enjoy doing crafts so we try to do a lot of those. Recently we had our Vacation Bible School at church and Logan had some problems doing the games, lessons but when craft time was near he got really happy and excited. He also loves to sing and dance so we encourage those things. Our theme at VBS was backstage with the bible and the go fish guys. The kids all got CD’s of the songs they sung at the end of VBS and they wear them out! Logan LOVES music so this is a great way to learn about our lord and enjoy himself. The Cd’s are playing every time we go in the car to. Logan keeps saying “turn it up mom” “we want everyone to hear that we love Jesus”. So cute! Your book has really helped me in knowing I am not alone! We have passed the book around to family and it helped them to understand Logan a little better. He has a lot in common with your son. It is wonderful that Andy is so good with him! My daughter tries to help Logan but he don’t let her very often. I always say that Logan having Autism has brought us closer and has taught my other 2 children so much. They don’t tease or pick on other kids for being different b/c they know how it makes Logan feel when he is teased. You are an inspiration to so many. Thank you for sharing your stories!!

    • Carol Phillips
      July 21, 2010 at 6:08 pm

      My 17 year od son likes to dress-up, I’m pleased with him, he always liked dressing like a little preacher man, but he gets made fun of because he is not sloppy as others, the good part is he will probably succeed in getting a job. But, he wears flannel pj to sleep, I guess he gets cold at night. But he has come a long way in his social skills, it is almost better that he doesn’t care what other people think, we are probably lucky. As you all are aware, it is a long hard, fight to get to where we are now. But, he makes the best of things, for the most part.

  4. Shelly Diamond
    July 20, 2010 at 10:17 am

    LOL! Thanks, a laugh is what we need sometimes! AND the ability to see the humor in things is a wonderful gift, and great at getting rid of frustration too! Some girl will love his “uniqueness”, same for my Son someday too.

  5. Nicole
    July 20, 2010 at 10:35 am

    I love the story- esp. how he was encouraged by the wierd clothes and wigs. My daughter has no sense of temperature as it relates to clothing. Even though it’s 93 degrees out, she’ll want to wear fleece footies to bed and really not understand why she can’t.

  6. Kasi
    July 20, 2010 at 10:44 am

    I love this story! Thanks for the laugh!

  7. Valerie
    July 20, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Love it, just love it….Sean is only 7, so I can only imagine the challenges we’ll face in the teen and young adult years…..Sean loves plaid and his pajamas…it’s either that or completely naked :)

  8. July 20, 2010 at 10:51 am

    I have a son with ASD named Matthew too :) Yours is very handsome, I love your humor about it all. My son is only 6 and I can only dream of the fun we’ll have :) Tell me, how did you get/find a social coach??!!!

    • July 20, 2010 at 9:36 pm

      Hi Laurie: Matthew has been going to a terrific psychologist who specializes in social skills training-she recommended someone.

      I was hoping to find a guy, but the woman that Matthew’s psychologist recommended is great-she really “get’s it.”

  9. Rose
    July 20, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Thank you for sharing.. My zack does the same thing hot as heck outside but he always want to wear his plaid long sleeve shirts..

  10. Laurel
    July 20, 2010 at 10:53 am

    My 6 yr old son (who insists on wearing his hair in a close crop) has taken to wearing a gag gift I bought for my mother-in-law– a red bandanna with Willie Nelson braids attached to it. He wears them everywhere and won’t go out without “fixing” his hair. I figure “He’s 6 – who cares?” and let him do wear them.

  11. July 20, 2010 at 10:59 am

    I have gone through the same thing with my youngest son. All of a sudden during the heat of summer he will pull out ‘too small’ jeans socks and a long sleeved shirt, or his winter pajamas. It’s all about them wanting to control something in their world. He tells me, “Everyone’s not into fashion like you mom!” That’s for sure!

  12. Debbie Gillispie
    July 20, 2010 at 11:12 am

    My son Devin with Autism is also 24 I learned to choose my battles a long time ago Devin has not worn a long pair of pants in over 10 years so I quit buying them even last winter here in Va when we had 42+ inches of snow Devin wore his usual blue shorts with a wife beater, pink shirt, purple shirt, flannel shirt and a leather coat. to “school” every day. Hey as long as he is happy my world is happy.

  13. sara leonard
    July 20, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Thanks for sharing. As a mom of 3 teen boys on the spectrum, I learned very eary on to make a “date” with each boys’ closet at the change of every season. If it’s not there they won’t wear it. When my oldest (now 18)was younger, he would only wear long pants in the summer, till I made every pair cut offs! He got used to it and now wears shorts when approprate. It’s all fun, we need this kind of comedy to keep us laughing!

  14. Karin (Animom)
    July 20, 2010 at 11:20 am

    My aspie daughter, Jessa, is almost 18 and getting ready to leave for college in a fee weeks. For this ” oh so dramatic ” child, everything she wears is a costume. We have a plethora of wigs and petticoats. At least I can justify it by noting that she is a musical theatre major. Shakespeare was right. All the world is a stage. I give her the latitude to express her mood in her daily costume. It is yet to be seen how well this will go over on a Midwest college campus.

    • Lisa
      July 30, 2010 at 7:18 pm

      Karin – my daughter is an aspie too. The clothing! She is 8 now – it’s good and a little scary to know that this is not going to change. I love her very unique sense of style … I just worry about her getting picked on in a couple of years.

  15. Brenda
    July 20, 2010 at 11:46 am

    lol! this story was hilarious, it’s nice to light up all the charming and funny things our kids do =]

  16. sami
    July 20, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Just getting our 7 year old to wear cloths in the summer has been a challenge! We found that he likes comfy basketball shorts, and tee’s, and that he is a little vain about looking cute, so when we want him to wear something we exaggerate how “cute” he looks. We still though CANNOT keep him clothed near water. The cloths comes off, and he heads for the water.

    • lorena
      July 23, 2010 at 4:30 pm

      hi my name is lorena i also have a 7 yr old with autisim he does not like to wear clothes he runa around in his boxers all day unless we go out. but as soon as we get out of the car he starts taking his shirt off..

  17. Shannon
    July 20, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    I have lost so very many clothing battles!! My 23 year old son does not like pants that touch his shoes and he wears his belt like he wants to cut himself in two. So he looks like a mighty suave guy when he goes out. He does have a girlfriend that does not seem to mind. I guess I shouldn’t!

    • Lisa
      July 20, 2010 at 5:06 pm

      I promise if you got your son K48 Plus supplements it would help him so much. I have seen so many people put there Autistic child on it, and its seriously made a wonderful difference! Please take 5 mins and watch the K48-Plus video. Go to http://www.jdpremium.com/lisabloxham

      Its a 30 day money back guarantee, if you dont see results, you get your money back! Promise it works!

  18. July 20, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    t the funniest thing recently was that we had decorated his and his brothers bedroom and in our haste to get the room bk into order for bed time the drawers were put into the room and the drawers were mixed up in the wrong place clays was in richards spot and vice versa clay is 5 and small for his age richard for 3 days wore clays clothes as he was adament that the clothes were his afterall they were indeed his drawers we had to wait til the monday when he went bk to school to move the drawers bk into the rightful place but peoples faces were defo a picture looking at my wee lad with his belly showing and ankle swingers ya got to love it !!! and na i would’t change a thing with my baby boy who else would make me smile each and every day xx

  19. Lisa
    July 20, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    I have a friend of mine that her son is Autistic. She found something natural that has changed his life drastically! Its called K48 Plus. Its an ALL Natural Krill Oil, Omega 3. Its from a wonderful company called JD Premium. You should go to the website and check it out, watch the K48-Plus video. http://www.jdpremium.com/lisabloxham Best part about it, its a 30 day money back guarantee! You really should try it, take 5 mins and watch the video, it could help someone you love!

  20. Cecilia Kayiwa
    July 20, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    I loved the story. Thanks for sharing.

  21. jessy
    July 20, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    My four year old recently recieved a shirt with buttons on it that look like car tires, he want’s to wear it every day and night i had a huge job getting him to take it off to wash it and he also wants to go nude when near water when we fixed the nude at the beach and pool thing he now want’s to wear swim trunks in the bath tub, lol no harm done i guess, and trunks in the tub are better then nude in public.

  22. carol
    July 20, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    I take the out of season clothes and put them in the attic so he can’t wear flannel in August.
    It is the only way to get around the clothing fight !

  23. Dan buckley
    July 20, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Stories like this make my heart glow. My brother is 17 and has been diagnosed with autism and no matter what the event or weather will wear a football jersey if he can get away it.

  24. Jeanine
    July 21, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    I love this story. My son Jack is not as high functioning but we are sure he picks wacky outfits on purpose. For a while he insisted on wearing his younger brother’s clothes which were skin tight. I love your other son’s perception too. My kids are often one step ahead of me in “getting” the whole thing.

  25. Carin
    July 22, 2010 at 11:38 am

    My 11 year old wears jeans and long sleeve t-s all year round. When he was about 3 or so, he’d wear winter boots in the summer. Some school workers were offended by it, but I didn’t care. We have great neighbors that have kids his age and the moms goal last year was to get him to wear shorts. She was successful, once or twice. This year, it was getting him in the pool. Once again, she was successful, many times over.

    He likes the pants too tight and small (floods), shirts that fit tight/small – especially button downs, and usually has a hoodie of some sort on. The school doesn’t enforce the no jacket rule with him and his friend has enjoyed that benefit as well. He was kicked out of catechism for not taking his coat off. I had to find another church for him to make first communion. They said it was disrespectful.

    He did start a trend with wearing clip on ties with his long sleeve t-s and button downs. He insisted on doing that for the first day of school, he wanted to have a good first impression. He continued to do that the rest of the year. A lunch mom stopped me and mentioned him and the tie. I was like, oh no, what is she going to say, but she said other boys are now wearing them. She thought that was pretty funny.

    When he does wear a t-shirt, it’s usually multiple t-shirts. The joke has become how many layers is Vinnie wearing. As long as he’s in regular ed classes and getting A’s and B’s and going along with the program, I really don’t care anymore.

    • lorena
      July 23, 2010 at 4:33 pm

      my son jacob is 7 yrs he does not like to wear anything with buttons.also his shirts have tags on them they have to come off.

  26. tanya lackey
    July 23, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    I have 3 children with Aspergers……trust me, clothing is an issue, so his hair,,, my 7yr old son has to wear the same style, no collars, short sleeve, same brand and feel….my 10 yr old daughter pulls and screams about everything ! And my 13 yr old son insists on wearing the exact same tshirt and jeans every day, not even the same outfit look alike, the exact same outfit. Don’t know what we are gonna do soon, they r wearing out….

  27. July 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    I am have my great grandchildren to raise. Christopher has been disgnosed with anxiety, and possible asbergers. He has to have things the same all of the time. If you bring up anything different for that day, he is so upset. We have learned to tell him in advance that we are going swimming, or do some other activity. He also is a tough one with clothes. He never seem to care if they are on right,the pants might be rolled up along waist, underwearing hanging out and he is happy. Whenever we try a button up shirt, that is a no. Whenever we try pants that have a button, that is a no. He is 5 years old and the apple of my eye.

  28. Laura
    July 23, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    My son is very hyper touch sensitive. This dictates many of his clothing choices. The plastic thread used in many kids clothing felt terrible to him, the ridge in the toe of the socks was irritating. Is not always just social skills but some empathy on our part that is needed. How would you feel wearing clothing that was constantly irritating? Work with them to find comfortable clothing and then just buy what they feel comfortable in even if it is the same thing every day. The child who wants to wear the same outfit may have issues with odors. Try washing the new clothes with the old clothes. Try putting the new clothes in unwashed sheets so they smell like his.

  29. Ola
    July 23, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Don’t you just love their innocence?

    When my son was a teenager he cut his own hair. It was awful. He thought that no one noticed all those bald patches throughout his entire head.

    He looked so embarrassed, but he didn’t say a word. My husband took him aside and showed him how to do it properly.

    When he was a little older he walked outside in a tie-dyed shirt. The boys his aged looked at him and laughed. I took a look at it myself and realized that he was indeed too old for the type of shirt that he was wearing. He didn’t notice the boys laughing.

    It reminded me that although, I see him as a younger man… he is now grown up.

  30. tracy
    July 24, 2010 at 10:13 am

    I have a Aspie son 15 going into 9th grade. It was a challenge at one time to do “the dance” with his clothing, he didn’t like tags, buttons, zip pants etc.. Fortunately he has grown out of most of that. Now the challenge is buying trendy clothes so he will blend in the crowd and not get teased, but “mom’s don’t know what’s cool”. There is a battle and at times he doesn’t always have the “right” look but no one is perfect. Mom’s out there, it does get better with a slow shift out of their comfort zone, whether it’s clothing or routine/habits. Blessings!

  31. Frank Freedman
    July 26, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    The mall? Well, I guess that green and orange spikes may give a better appreciation of the wigs. ‘course I have not been much in malls of late. My son does not like large/noisy stores or malls.

  32. Jennifer
    July 27, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    Clothing? I can barely keep my son dressed. Every time I turn around he is streaking through the house, outside, wherever. Fortunately, he is only five, but I have no idea what we’ll do if we can’t correct this…and soon!

  33. stacey
    July 28, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    lo thank you for the lol…Jennifer i great idea i recived about naked lil boys was lol…get the one piece pj’s cut the feet off if they have them and but them on backward’s and zipp!..lol it truly works my jacob from ages 1-4 was like that…and it was truly difficult cuz he wasn’t potty trained yet and he would take off his diaper too!..it was great also because he had to get used to wearing clothes he would cry at first but eventuly he got used to it and now he verry modest and wants privacy to change his clothes!one more point for me ! Jacob is still winning! im gainning on him though…good luck!

  34. Margie
    August 24, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    My 8 year old will NOT wear clothes at home-PERIOD! The second he comes home from school, he strips. So naturally, his two younger brothers do the same thing. I have got the two little ones to wear clothes on the porch now, thank goodness.
    My Asperger’s guy is 20 and has his standard outfit of a maroon t-shirt and black jeans. Now that he has a significant other, he shares clothes and wears some shorts and other tees here and there. Yay!

  35. Robbie Salberg
    February 4, 2011 at 8:49 am

    My son just turned 20. When he was young dressing him was not a hugh problem. As he got older and into his teens he cared less and less about how he looked. Within the past year he has become obsessed with Anime. Now he orders costumes and wigs (usually bright blue, yellow or red) and wears them to Anime conventions. It has become his “thing”. We support his hobby, even buy the expensive costumes, but are concerned he will start wearing them as his everyday clothes. He does not seemed concerned what other think…

  36. November 4, 2011 at 5:05 am

    Great) blog. Absolutely love it. Keep updating man :) Be back for more soon :)

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