Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Getting Dressed

Dressing a baby is so easy.

When you have a baby, you get all the fun of picking out little adorable outfits. Lacy dress? It's adorable. You're wearing it for a picture. Oh, what, you hate it? Too bad, you look like a doll baby. Now endure my attempts to make distracting noises at you as I snap 35 pictures and post the best one on facebook.
Isn't this the best picture? Baby Chloe in a lacy dress, her first moments home from the hospital. Do you think she likes her dress? Lilli's like, uh, what's with that angry baby in a frilly dress over there?

Dressing children as they get older? Not so easy to control.

Yesterday, we all got dressed for church, and this is what that looked like:

Nate, the 1 year old: we picked out his clothes and dressed him. Obviously. Nothing fancy for that little guy, though. He's the fourth child. I chose a shirt that didn't have food stains on it and socks he wouldn't be able to pull off very easily. Moms of multiples, you know where I'm coming from.

Josh, the 5 year old: very picky about his clothes, he chose pants that he feels comfortable in and a shirt he likes, and he put on his own clothes. Do orange and navy stripes go with black pants? Who cares! It feels good.

Chloe, the 9 year old: chose a dress that was inappropriate for the weather, (a sundress of course) argued about it, came up with a compromise, and came out wearing a sweater dress and leggings that she chose and put on herself. Also chunky heeled white sandals. White sandals. In October. With a sweater dress...because they have "heels."

I let her. I remember fighting with my own mother about clothes and shoes when I was 9. Some things you just have to let go.

Then we have Lilli. Lilli is older than Chloe, so why wouldn't she care about her clothes and shoes? She cares. But she won't go in her room and pick out her clothes and dress herself. She can't even put her own shirt on.

The most important thing about Lilli that I've learned over the years is that she has parts of her that are age appropriate. Those parts are on the inside. It was never so evident until the most recent years when we finally discovered that she really does care about certain age appropriate things. Yes, she still plays with Dulpo Legos and puts them in her mouth. Yes, she still watches Veggie Tales, Sesame Street and even Baby Einstein. They are comforting to her. I don't know, maybe she will always watch them. She likes sameness. Some things in her life are still very babyish.

But that does not mean that Lilli is a baby. Or that she should be treated like a baby.

One thing that has always irked me as a special needs mom is how she underwent assessments in the early preschool years, which deteremined that she was on a cognitive level of 18 months...or something like that. Maybe it was 15 months. Whatever the level, it was extremely low. After 11 years, I have more wisdom about this. No one ever said to me, "Your daughter might have a level of 18 months for SOME things, maybe even most things but not all things. Treat her like you would treat other children her age, and accommodate appropriately. Talk to her age appropriately. Dress her age appropriately. Introduce age appropriate toys, music, and interests. Start at her age and work backwards."

That would have helped me out a lot. I am still working on this. I am still not good at it.

I am finally catching up on how she wants to pick out her own clothes. She wants to choose which necklace she wants to wear, she wants to choose how she wants her hair to look, and she wants to choose which hair accessory I put in her hair. She cannot brush her own hair, but she still cares a lot about what it looks like. She cannot put on a sweater, but you'd better believe she cares about what that sweater looks like.

The new speech therapist has helped us simplify a method of having her be in control of choosing what she wears. We used to have all of her outfits and jewelry on her ipad, but it was still overwhelming with way too many choices. Now, I pick out two or three things, and give her the ipad. She can tell me if she approves or not. If she doesn't approve, I go get more choices.

My husband went through her drawers and picked out an outfit that she hadn't worn since last winter. The weather was cooler, and we were pulling out long sleeves for the first time. He put the clothes - a white seqinned shirt, black capri leggings and a black frilly skirt - down on the table in front of Lilli and said to me, "This is her outfit, is that okay?"

"I don't know, ask her." I said.

This is the new routine now, that we do every school morning. It is time consuming. But so necessary.

"Do you want to wear this?" he asked her. He pointed at the outift on the table in front of her and held the ipad out for her to see.

"I don't want to wear that." She answered immediately.


"Get a pair of jean jeggings, she's into those right now," I told him.  "I'll get them." I went back to find her favorite pair and when I brought them out, my husband had put the white sequinned shirt on her.

"Wait, did she say she wanted to wear that shirt?" I asked as I handed him the jeggings.
"I don't know, I just put it on her," he answered, getting frustrated with this girly outfit stuff.

Dad, see? That shirt is so, like, last year.
"Middle schoolers don't wear those kind of skirts with leggings anymore, they just wear the leggings, she doesn't want to wear stuff like that anymore. Ask her about the shirt," I said.

"I don't want to wear that." Lilli pressed on her ipad.

My husband threw his hands in the air and said "I give up, you do it,"

That made me laugh but he doesn't know what she would want to wear. I am not good at fashion but I'm trying really hard. Everytime I go to the middle school, I look at what the other kids are wearing. Last week I went clothes shopping for Lilli  - without Lilli. This is challenging because it would be easier hypothetically to have Lilli touch and choose which clothes she liked right there in the store, but we have had way too many overwhelming shopping meltdown experiences. The sensory overload of the store with the lights, sounds, smells, and unexpectedness of it all with people walking past, unfamiliar terrain walking around clothes racks and is too much for Lilli.

So I now bring home choices and ask her. If she likes them, we keep them. If not, I return them. So much easier than a meltdown for Lilli and anxiety and stress for me and other people in the store.

 I asked a salesperson for help. She happened to have a middle school aged daughter, bonus! I asked her what her daughter would pick out if she went shopping there. She pointed at a wall of regular jeans.

"Well, I'll tell you what they DON'T wear, they don't wear these," as she swept her arm over the whole wall.

Good to know. I did not know that regular cut jeans are currently "out."  I wish Lilli could tell me that kind of stuff, I thought. She directed me to other racks with skinny jeans and leggings, and outfits she has seen other middle schoolers purchase recently. But also, I wonder, do middle school kids think it's "cool" to buy clothes at Walmart? One thing at a time, one thing at a time.

There is a lot of guess work going on here, trial and error. Lilli's teacher asked me once how Lilli got her sense of fashion and how we knew how to dress her.

"She has had some hip therapists in the past few years, and several therapists and a teacher who bought her clothes and helped her pick things out," I answered. "She has people buy her cool clothes all the time."

It's true. Her ABA therapist, her homebound teacher, her speech therapist, even the ABA therapist's supervisor...all have bought Lilli cool clothes. They could tell I was fashion-challenged.

I take no credit. The store "Justice" has been a big help, even though it irritates me with its high prices, trite slogans and loud music. (I must be in my 40s.) But now, of course, I wonder if she will move onto another store brand, because do middle schoolers wear Justice clothes? I really do not know. I think not. I hate brand names. My brand names are Good Will, TJ Maxx, and anything black. Truly. Black is simple and goes with anything....except maybe navy, but I'm not even absolutely positive about that one. And maybe brown? I honestly do not know. If you feel so inclined, please comment below and tell me if black goes with navy or brown. Thanks.

Anyway. I went back to Lilli's clothes and got a new sweater she'd just received as a gift from a hip relative who knows what's cool to wear. She's much more up on style than I am, I trust her. I also grabbed a long tank top from Justice to go under the sweater.

"Here, what do you think of this?" I asked Lilli as I held it out to her.

"I like it." she pressed.

Score. I put the tank and sweater on her, and then we had to discuss her hair and jewelry. Would we be late for church because of this? Oh yeah.

She pressed the button for ponytail and pointed to a sparkly butterfly clip that I held out to her. We went to look at her necklace collection, and that took forever. I held each necklace out to her and she pushed, "no, I don't want to wear that one." Six times.

Finally I held out a pink starfish pendant that we'd bought at the beach. "That's the one I want," she pressed.

When she was done being dressed, I made a big deal and said, "Lilli, you look so fabulous in that outfit, you just have to look at yourself in the mirror. Come on."

I walked her to the full length mirror we have in the hallway. Lilli doesn't look at herself in the mirror like Chloe and Josh do. They spend lots of time studying themselves. Lilli will glance quickly and look away. She smiled and I watched her as her eyes darted around the hall, everywhere but the mirror. This is autism. I wonder sometimes if she sees life like we see a kalidoscope. I have read that looking straight at things can even almost hurt to someone with autism.

"Come on, look at you!" I encouraged her. I pointed at the mirror. "Look!"

Her eyes flickered over for half a second at her own image in front of us, and immediately looked at the wall. But she had seen. She smiled and put her hand on her neck to show she wanted to say something. Whatever that something was, I don't know. She only has so many choices on her ipad right now, and we have put the facilliated typing aside for a long time now due to focusing on having her use the ipad completely independently, without being touched or guided.

Now she was ready to go. Annnnnd we were going to be late.

But it was so worth it to see her smile.

And that's how we dress a non verbal 11 year old middle schooler.