Finding Clothes for Special Needs Teens

The Challenges of Shopping and Special Needs Teens and Tweens

My son's not-so-stylish shoes with his specialty laces.
My son’s not-so-stylish shoes with his specialty laces.

Most parents view clothes shopping for their kids as a fairly straight-forward event. Go to store, pick out clothes – maybe have the little ones try them on – and then head home. Not so for me – and I’m guessing other parents of children on the autism spectrum.

Despite OT, my son has poor hand-eye coordination and zippers and buttons on pants is an out. When he was younger, it was fairly easy to find pants with elastic. Not so any more. He’s now wearing size 14 and there’s not many choices in elastic pants besides running pants. While those work for him on nights and weekends, they are out when it comes to school. He goes to a private school with a dress code that requires khaki pants. I’ve searched high and low to find khaki pants with elastic or are large and flexible enough for him to slip off and on. I have gotten lucky at Lands End although they are pricey. Then there’s jeans. I previously found elastic waist jeans in his size at Walmart, but not anymore. I guess he is now too big.

Shoes are another challenge. Just like with zipper and buttons, tying shoes is a challenge for Michael. He can do it, it just takes a long time. When he was younger, shoes with Velcro worked great but as his size got larger – he’s now officially a men’s 7! – finding shoes with Velcro is nearly impossible. I finally found some laces that tie and lock into place online that I can use for his shoes. They go for about $7 a piece — there are so many extra costs sometimes associated with his disability that not many people realize.

As for his shirts, Michael is a chewer – although we have cut down on that problem dramatically in the past few years – but I do have to watch out for anything with drawstrings or zippers, which can be very tempting for him to start chewing on.

Other children may have problems with tags and fabric; luckily, Michael hasn’t had that. But that causes trouble too for some children and can make buying clothes difficult since a certain fabric or tag can send them reeling.

I often wonder how things will change as he gets older. Will it continue to be a struggle to find clothing that’s comfortable and he can manage? Will he become like other teens and start to care what he wears? Right now, he couldn’t care less although his favorite shirt has a Minecraft guy on it. How will that influence future shopping trips? If there are any parents of special needs children out there, how do you manage shopping? What are your struggles? Are there any stores where you have found success with “adaptive” clothing?


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MaryBeth Matzek

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