Asperger Teens: Focus on Personal Appearance

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • At 14 years old Harry knew the importance of taking a shower each morning before heading off to school but it wasn't always that way. In the past, his parents had to force him to shower and even now, on days when he wasn't going someplace he rarely took a shower unless asked. Harry didn't care much about his clothes, he would wear the same clothes day after day if his mother didn't specifically ask him to change. He would head out the door with wrinkled clothes without understanding why that was a problem. Each morning his mother would check out how he looked before allowing him to walk out the door to school.

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    Harry, like many teens with Asperger's syndrome (AS), didn't understand all the fuss about his appearance. What did how he looked have to do with whether or not he did well in school? And wasn't it his grades that mattered? Why did anyone care whether his shirt was wrinkled or his pants had a dirt spot? He did his homework, got good grades...those were the things that mattered.

     

    But Harry's parents understood the importance of appearance. They knew that Harry's peers would judge him based on how he looked, that making friends, as difficult as it was for Harry, would be even more difficult because of how he dressed. They knew that getting and keeping a job often depended on your appearance even if Harry didn't get the connection.

     

    Although it seemed that Harry wasn't particular about what he wore, actually, the opposite was true. Harry was very particular about his clothes. His sensory sensitivities, especially to touch, interfered with his ability to wear certain clothing. Tight, scratchy jeans bothered him all day, to the point that he couldn't focus on his classes when he was wearing them. Shirts with tags or sometimes even collars were the same way. He only wore clothes that were comfortable, those that he could put on and forget, not ones that caused him to feel itchy or spend the day fidgeting with tags and seams.

     

    It may seem hopeless to hope your Aspie teen will ever learn to dress appropriately, and certainly, he may never have the same level of caring about his appearance as other teens, but there are ways parents can help Aspie's to not stand out of the crowd:

    • Insist your child take a shower or bath every day. Include bathing into your teen's daily activities, setting up a specific time for showering. Set rules, such as "you must use shampoo and soap" and "you must use deodorant after getting out of the shower." Although these rules sound like common sense to you, they may not be to your Aspie.
    • Check teen websites, magazine, display windows at the mall or catalogues to find out what the teens of today are wearing. There is usually a variety of clothing types that are considered "in" so you can choose what will work best for your teen. If your teen is opposed to going shopping with you, buy several different types of outfits for him to try on at home to find out which type of clothing is most comfortable and that he will wear. It may take some work but you should be able to find some clothes that will make your teen, if not fit in, then at least not stand out as odd and still be comfortable.
    • Talk to your teen about the importance of appearance. Remember that your teen thinks logically so try to make connections with how appearance can impact how others think about him. While you may get an answer like, "I don't get that, people should judge you by who you are and what you can do, not how you look," it is important to help him understand that while this is true, it is not always the way things are. Make connections and explain how he also judges certain things by their appearance, for example, he may want his food to look appealing, or at least not disgusting.
    • Use your teen's willingness to follow rules to your benefit. Set specific rules for dressing, for example, you wear certain clothes to school, certain clothes to go to church, certain clothes for playing sports. If necessary, use a section of your child's closet or designate a drawer for each type of clothing.

    Helping your teen understand the importance of dressing neatly and appropriately for the situation will probably be an ongoing lesson. Continue to work with him as he explores social situations and job opportunities to help him better understa

Published On: January 18, 2012