A mom to an autistic child came up with a genius idea: sell clothing that respects the sensory needs of autistic children and adults.
Many autistic people find the conventional seams, types of fabrics, tags and other peculiarities of mass-produced clothing to be very uncomfortable, even unbearable.
Kirsty Auden’s mother, Meta, finally hit upon a brilliant solution – inspired by Kirsty’s discomfort with typical clothing.
Kirsty, 21, is autistic and wants neurotypical people to have a better understanding of her innate neurotype.
“I AM HERE.”
“I AM LISTENING: I am not looking into your eyes because I am trying to concentrate on your words.”
Many autistic people find it difficult to pay attention to a conversation while at the same time maintain eye contact.
Think of this as two incoming channels of information: a sensory overload.
Many can look into your eyes – while nobody is speaking.
Or, they can fully follow the conversation – as long as their eyes are on something of a neutral value such as your nose, mouth or away from your face entirely. Ears don’t require eye contact to function.
“I AM PAYING ATTENTION: I just can’t process any more information.”
Sometimes the environment can be too stimulating. Imagine trying to carry on a conversation while simultaneously doing a crossword puzzle.
There’s too much going on. For many autistic people, sensory overload can occur in environments with lots of sounds and bright lighting.
“I DO HAVE FEELINGS: My facial expression just doesn’t match.”
For many people on the Spectrum, it’s not natural to change facial expression to match the feeling of the moment.
If this is difficult for a neurotypical person to understand, think of it this way:
Suppose every time you felt happy, amused or enthusiastic, you had to draw squares and triangles in the air with your pinky finger.
This would not be natural, and you’d find it difficult to remember to do this. It would be so much easier to just let your hands rest naturally.
This is how it works with facial expressions in autistic people. It feels very natural for them to just let their face rest naturally even though they may be experiencing various emotions.
“I DID NOTICE: I just wasn’t sure how to respond.”
A reflexive response to someone’s comment or facial expression doesn’t always occur with autistic people.
They’re left dangling, you might say, even though they fully noticed and understood what just happened.
For instance, they might get a joke, but don’t know how to respond. Or …they may “get it” as quickly as everyone else in the room, but not think it’s funny.
Or, they may find it amusing but be unable to transfer this perception to a facial expression or laughter.
“I TRY TO CONNECT: But it is still hard to relate.”
When autistic people make attempts to be part of a group or fit in, the effort can feel mechanical, forced or artificial.
It can feel as though they’re going through the motions – because that’s actually what happens in many instances.
They do this to appease the neurotypical and/or to try to integrate with others. The effort may not be dynamic, but it is there.
“I DO CARE: I just find it hard to translate how I feel in a way that makes sense to others.”
An autistic person can feel deep concern and caring for another individual, yet not be very physically expressive with this.
Their voice may be flat or sound matter-of-fact. Their face may be neutral and not reflect the content of their words.
Autistic people can feel empathy – sometimes a lot of it – but find it challenging to show it with body language, facial expressions and how they speak.
Autistic people will show their caring in many ways other than bodily expression, such as offering to help with tasks or just simply sticking around.
“I DO WANT TO TALK TO YOU: I’m just not so good in a crowded room. I am not being badly behaved.”
For many on the Spectrum, one-on-one interactions are preferred. This way, the autist can focus better.
But in a crowded room, they can become distracted by many voices going at once, and/or smells of fragrances.
A crowded room can also be loud, and for many autistic people, loudness is unpleasant.
An autistic person can provide you with a dynamic conversational experience when alone with you; if you’re neurotypical, give it a try sometime!
“I GET ANXIOUS AND OVERWHELMED BY MY SENSES: I’m not being rude, lazy or antisocial.”
An autistic person may be “sensitive” to certain sounds, find fluorescent lighting a source of physical discomfort and/or find many different odors highly unpleasant.
They may be able to hear things that others can’t (e.g., annoying hum of a refrigerator) or detect odors that others miss (e.g., breath, unclean clothes, spoiled food in a refrigerator, trash that needs to be taken out).
“I USE EARPHONES, SLEEP AND SOLITUDE AS COPING STRATEGIES: And I am not making excuses……I’m just trying to say that our brains are wired differently.”
Autism is not a processing error. It’s a different operating system. Using earphones, sleep and solitude to cope is enormously better than using cigarettes and alcohol to manage the stressors of life.
So if you’re neurotypical, don’t knock less typical coping strategies. Think of Autism Spectrum Disorder as an alternative software for the human brain – kind of like how Linux is an alternative software to a laptop computer.
Spectra Sensory Clothing
Kirsty’s mother, Meta, came up with a brilliant idea in 2017: the design of clothing that’s sensory-friendly to autistic kids. The line eventually branched out to include adults.
The spark was ignited when Meta realized that her daughter wasn’t wearing nearly all the clothes she had purchased for her. It wasn’t an issue of style or fit. It was an issue of sensory discomfort, such as from types of fabric and interior seams.
One of Spectra Sensory Clothing’s main lines is school uniforms, which are required past primary school in the UK.
Spectra Sensory Clothing’s uniforms are indistinguishable from traditional uniforms and are minus itchy and aggravating seams and tags, and are made of soft and gentle fabric.
Other products include tee shirts (including seasonal), jogging pants, socks, sleepwear, vests and tieless shoelaces. They also have a book section.
Check out Spectra Sensory Clothing, which is based in Belfast, UK and ships internationally.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical and fitness topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. In 2022 she received a diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder.