Transitioning to cold-weather clothing (coats, hats, gloves, etc.) is challenging for many children with autism, especially those who tend to experience more severe sensory issues. In addition to the sensory insensitivities to certain textures, colors, and fit of clothing, there is another sensory processing channel children with autism often experience difficulty with, temperature regulation. Many individuals with autism are unable to set their internal thermometer at a comfortable level. Keep in mind that your child might feel hot in cold weather or cold when it is warm.
I am suggesting some strategies that will hopefully make it easier to keep your piece of mind that your child will be safe and can keep your child warm during the cold winter weather.
1) Provide Choices. Have at least two to three options for each article of winter clothing so you can ask your child to pick one of the available choices. Too many choices may overwhelm your child, so try not to offer a vast array of options.
2) Comfort. Try to buy only the softest, most comfortable clothing available. Cut out tags if they bother your child. Have your child go shopping for winter attire with you and let him/her help to choose the clothing if possible.
3) Model Appropriate Behavior. Your child may be more likely to put on a hat, gloves, etc. if he or she sees family members engaging in the same behavior. You may also want to consider playing “dress up” with paper dolls, baby dolls or a favorite teddy bear using weather-appropriate clothing.
4) Use Visuals. Create a visual story board showing different types of weather and appropriate clothing for each season.
5) Make Dressing Fun. Try to make dressing for the weather fun by making a game out of it. For example, see who can get their coat, hat, and gloves on the most quickly. Allow your child to “win” and make sure there is a favorite reinforce when he or she beats you.
6) Incorporate Dressing Into The Daily Routine. Approach the process of putting on coats, etc. as just one step in your child’s daily routine, make sure that the dressing step is followed by something your child enjoys such as going outside, eating a snack, listening to music, etc.
7) Address Sensory Issues. If your child’s hypersensitivities are causing a problem, address this issue with your child’s doctor or your child’s occupational therapist to help address the issue. Sensory brushing and applying lotion prior to dressing may help to desensitize your child’s skin. Talk to your child’s occupational therapist for more information on sensory brushing.
8) Watch Winter-Themed Movies. If your child enjoys movies and DVD’, choose winter-themed movies to create excitement over the change in seasons, pointing out how the characters are appropriately dressed for the weather.
9) Pick your Battles. If your child wants to go outside in cold weather without a coat, gloves and hat, allow them this as long as it’s not harmful to their health, even if it makes you uncomfortable thinking about how cold they will be. Remember, you are not your child and do not experience the world the way he or she does.
10) Be Understanding. Rather than allowing the issue to become a power struggle between you and your child, let him or her know you understand. You could tell your child that you know the coat is not comfortable or that you realize he or she might not think it’s cold outside. This statement may help deflect some of the attitude that goes along with your demand that your child wear his or her coat. Your child may be more likely to accept your rules if he or she feels they are understood and respected.