Dressing a child with autism and sensory issues is not easy at the best of times, but preparing them for travel can be a campaign in itself. The problem arises when we expect children to step out of their personal comfort zone and wear unfamiliar items either due to different climates, cultural dress code or other seasons in that particular locale. Here are our top ten clothing tips to combat potential issues based on what we found worked best for us.
Parents should start with clothing from their child’s regular daily wardrobe since they are already used to the items and won’t make a fuss. Those who don’t already know should learn as much as they can about their child’s aversion to certain things. In our son’s case buttons, zippers and mittens are his mortal enemies. So, the concept here is to try different variations of clothing until something works.
Stick to the Familiar
My basic rule of thumb is – buy items that are 100% cotton and remove the tags. Some companies now make garments without tags. Parents should find a brand, style and cut and fabric their child likes and stick with their products. To simplify things I suggest they should buy the same type of shirts, pants, shorts, socks and undergarments in different colors.Those who need to buy any new clothing items should have their child wear them at least a month before travel to get them accustomed to wearing them.
Once, when we flew across the country to NYC in the dead of winter, we went from 80 degrees to 22 overnight. Suddenly our child who was used to wearing crocs and short pants had to switch to long pants, shirts, coat, boots, hat, and gloves!
Of course one can experience the same issue in reverse. What if a child is used to thick clothing which gives them comfort and security but they travel to a warm tropical area?
What we did was use small rewards to encourage him to try the different clothing on and see how they felt. Since we knew our son was not used to thick things, we opted to dress him in layers that he could ‘peel’ off if he was uncomfortable. We even went shopping online and found a pair of Crocs with fleece inside so that he didn’t have to change the type of shoe he was wearing.
Our experience taught us that thin, breathable clothes that dry fast work best for travel. When it comes to pants and shorts, synthetic material that one can wash by hand, and that dries overnight is ideal. Also, parents should seek self-threading belts or elastic waists, instead of actual belts. These reduce the chance of the pants hanging loose as well as the number of items that need to be packed.
Parents should stick to two of their child’s favorite colors and mix and match. It is much easier to interchange that way and also gives children a sense of familiarity.
Most kids with autism have difficulty tying shoes so bringing a pair that they can quickly slip on and off is best when going through airport security. Furthermore, we highly recommend bringing a pair of thick socks or crocs for the flight to make the kid more comfortable.
Never Take New Shoes!
The same rule that applies to clothing also applies to shoes. In our experience, it never worked well to buy a brand new pair for the trip. It works better to break them in first. Doing that can eliminate discomfort blisters and subsequent meltdowns.
Since dress codes are usually enforced in religious or formal affairs, this can present a problem for some. If a child hates button-down shirts, parents should try putting a t-shirt underneath. Neckties or suits are harder.Our son refused to wear a button down shirt and tie for years, so we had to ask for accommodations many times. In some instances, people were understanding, in others not so much. Over the years we learned that if we couldn’t get exemptions it was better to forgo the locale or ceremony than face a potential meltdown.
Bring Laundry Soap
For sensitivities, allergies, and continuity, it is good for parents to bring along laundry detergent from home. Our WE always do! That way, nobody needs to deal with any unwanted irritations from unfamiliar products on skin.
Involve the Kids
The last tip works well with older kids, but parents can try it with younger ones too. When packing for a trip, it is better if the kids are there to see what is packed. Parents can explain why certain items of clothing are needed and for which days.
With that said, it is best if children are presented with options from which they can decide what specific items to take. Giving them a choice can help teach them responsibility and independence as well as act as a reminder when they get frustrated that a clothing article they liked was left at home