Saturday, March 15, 2014

Practicality: Getting Your Aspergeans to Invest in their Appearance

One of the more challenging issues that we have faced with CM2 is for him to buy into the idea of self-presentation. What you wear and how you hold yourself gives off that unwritten vibe about who you happen to be. Whether we like it or not, society does judge a book by its cover. So if you walk out of the house with torn and dirty clothes, unwashed, unshaven face and unkempt finger nails, you will not present a positive view of yourself. We try to explain to him that no matter how smart he is, if people are turned off by his appearance no one is going to give him chance one, never mind a second chance.

Interestingly we never really had this issue with MrGS. He was always fastidious in his appearance. I remember as a little boy he would flip his scarf just so that he looked rather dashing. He always combed his hair, brushed his teeth, took care of how he looked. Well until the shaving thing came about. But from what others tell me, its more a general age thing with boys, the not wanting to shave issue, rather than an aspergean issue. And as MrGS has grown he has taken care of his whiskers as well.

Now with CM2 it is a totally different issue. Just as everyone with autism manifests this disability differently, so too, do they manifest issues about hygiene and dress differently as well. CM2 always had issues with brushing his teeth. He had terrible sensory processing issues, which not only manifested themselves in what kind of clothing he could tolerate even to this day, but the mere fact of putting a tooth brush in his mouth was painful for him. (I actually talk about our tooth brushing and face washing episodes and what we did to help him HERE.) That he could get through braces was amazing to everyone. I think the idea that he could walk around with Kelly Green bands on his teeth for several yeas did help (Kelly Green being his most favoritest of colors.) But as with everything in life, as the boys grew their issues changed. They were able to work through some issues and new ones popped up regularly.

Meanwhile, CM2 didn't really care about his clothes either. He didn't want to go clothes shopping or take responsibility for anything having to do with what he puts on his back. "Just pick me out some tops and pants," he and MrGS would say. Clothes horses they are not and never were. In fact, the act of taking him to the shoe store was mostly a misadventure. If there was anyway that I could have actually bought him shoes at one point without having to go through the fights, and meltdowns it would have made that part of parenting so much easier. (You need to also understand that just from a male perspective the hubby hates to go clothes shopping too. And in general when he needs some type of footwear I just go buy what he says he wants so he doesn't have to go into the store. If it doesn't fit I will bring it back. In fact, the local suit store also has his measurements on file and when hubby needs a new suit, I just go in and pick out a pattern of hubby's color choice, something the store owner and I think he might like and I purchase the suit. Hubby doesn't care and is rather relieved that he doesn't have to bother with that part of life. So by now, the local vendors and I have hubby's clothes down to a science. From what my friends tell me hubby isn't the only man who is like this either.)

Is CM2's reluctance to go shopping a sensory issue? Possibly? Is it an inability to make a decision from among the myriad of choices (BTW-the inability to choose is a very aspergean issue. Something nobody tells you at any point until you notice it on your own.)? Possibly. Or quite frankly was the idea of going outside his normal schedule (even with a heads up) to go clothes or shoe shopping too much for him? Possibly. In fact, probably all three together, which made for some rather interesting excursions.

Well, I did eventually learn to circumvent these issues. CM2 doesn't really wear "hard" shoes. He would wear sneakers like most teenage boys and now I was able to move him into Merrill slipons for the winter, along with snowboots and workboots for when he helps out in the house. I took him for his latest Merrills last fall. I set down good parameters and shortened his choices. What's nice too is that the people that run our shoe store have known CM2 since he was a very little boy. So they know him and are used to any issue that might arise.  However, I came up with another way to help him get used to going to the store and purchasing boots, shoes and even clothes. I sent him with the behaviorist. I took myself out of the public picture.

I gave him strict rules on what to look for in snowboots. I showed him his old snowboots, which were too small for him and said he needed to buy the same boot only bigger. So (1) I took choice out of the equation. No problem there. (2) I shortened the buying experience by making certain that the only thing he had to do was go get measured and buy his boot. He went to the local shoe store. No. I did not give them a heads up. I wanted to see what would happen when he came in with just the behaviorist. Apparently he was a youngman on a mission. The people in the store were very nice as usual. Fit him. He paid. Came home. He also liked his boots and wore them everyday (until the snow started melting) without putting up a fuss.

Then our next adventure in trying to get CM2 to take an interest in his clothes was to send him to Target with the behaviorist. We discussed it and felt that if CM2 was more invested in what he chose in the store he might care more about how he looked when he left the house. Now CM2 didn't quite get that. "He has clothes, he likes his clothes, he doesn't want new clothes," he said.

Well yesterday he went with her to Target. I told him he could buy himself a video game (my treat rather than him earning chore$ for the game) and maybe he should look and see if there are any shirts he might like. No pants, we are going to start slow. Besides his sensory issues still make it pretty difficult for him to find pants that he can manage. Right now he wears nicer types of sweatpants. Jeans have never been something he could tolerate. Khakis are left for nice dress up. He hasn't worn a suit since his bar mitzvah and I don't push it either.

He hadn't really acknowledged me when I mentioned the shirt issue earlier in the day so when he left the house I decided to not mention it again. I simply wanted him to get into another environment without me (but with support) and learn to navigate the ins and outs of a huge department store. Well lo and behold he came home with a t-shirt that he picked out. The behaviorist said he made a B-line for the men's department (even though  they did get a little turned around) and he went over to the t-shirt department instead of the polo shirt area. She wasn't quite certain if that was what I wanted but she let him roll with it since he was being independent. CM2 figured out what his size was by looking at the tag on the shirt he was wearing and picked out a t-shirt that he wanted. I think he was proud of himself because he immediately put that new t-shirt on when he got home.

FYI- I was really proud of him too.

So I'm thinking this new experiment just might work out. Getting CM2 invested in his own clothing choices might actually make him more aware of how he looks to the outside world. The choices in the department stores might seem overwhelming to him at times, but he is going to have to learn how to compartmentalize his clothing the way he compartmentalizes his video games too. Certain shirts for different activities, certain pants for different activities and someday a nice new suit and tie for something really special event (of course we still need to figure out the sensory issues. But I am sure with all the choices of fabrics, clothing and manufacturers in today's world, we just might be able to find him some comfortable formal or business-casual attire when the time comes to leave school and go out into the regular adult world).

Clothes are an extension of the person. It is a way of telling the world this is who I am. I think it is very important that he pick out his own clothes. The T-shirt says NASA on it. That was unexpected. I thought it would be a gamer t-shirt. But then again there was a time when CM2 wore a shirt in defense of Pluto when they downgraded it from a planet. He was none too pleased with NASA when that happened. But I think they recanted on Pluto so apparently he forgave them.

Well as with everything to do with aspergers it is a process. Hit and miss most of the time. But at least every once in awhile you get that positive outcome that makes you know that they are continuing to grow, develop and manifest into some really nice appropriate (and clean) young adults.

Rub-a-dub-dub, Aspie in the Tub


Elise