Posted by: E (The Third Glance) | December 26, 2011

An Autistic’s Holiday Survival Guide: Part 1 – Clothes

This started out as one post, but it got excessively long, so I’m breaking it up. Please forgive the choppy nature of the prose. I know the holiday season is coming to a close, so this is slightly late, but there’s still New Years Eve and New Years Day… Here is part 1: Clothes. (This could alternatively be titled “why I wear the same thing every day”)


The holiday season in my house* is synonymous with parties. My mother is what some people call a “super-neurotypical” – she lives to socialize, attend parties, and entertain. Usually the holidays mean an endless stream of going to and hosting parties with all of my mother’s friends. People who think they know everything about me and want to prove it. People who have no concept of personal space. And the worst of all, people who think they will be the ones to “cure” me of all of my social unease and all the other things my mother hates about me (read: all my Autistic traits). Over the years, I’ve developed several coping mechanisms for dealing with my mom’s obsessive party-going/throwing, and her worship of social customs. I hope that by sharing these, I can offer insight into surviving the holiday season with a little less trauma. The goal is to minimize the number of triggers. The less stress present before getting to the party, the less likely a shutdown is.

Holidays (traditionally) are a time where you are expected to wear your nicest clothes. This was always misery for me, since I am so texture-oriented. The instant you put me in clothes that I’m not comfortable with (especially “traditionally” girls clothes, eg dresses and tights, but also dressy pants and shirts), I lose it. There were screaming meltdowns when I was younger, and then when my parents “trained away” meltdowns as I got older (I have an obsessive desire to not upset people, another post for another time), there were internal shutdowns. There still are, when I’m forced into clothes I’m not comfortable with. So holiday clothes are not sensory-friendly – you can’t sit in them, because they rumple. They have that texture that makes me want to cry every time my skin rubs against it because it hurts so badly. They’re a different shape and fall differently on my body than what I’m used to. Since there’s no getting out of attending these parties, I have instead developed compromises. I have found dark jeans that look nice but still have the same feeling that regular pants do. I have a nice holiday fleece that I wear. I still look “appropriately festive and (somewhat) dressed up” according to my mother, but am better able to function, because I’ve controlled that one sensory input. So while it’s not grandma’s itchy holiday sweater on top of the fancy dress, at least it fulfills the social obligation without causing a tipping point for me.

I will also add that footwear is another issue here. My personal preference is to wear socks, and only socks. That way I can feel the contour of the floor without having to be assaulted by the textures and strange feelings of it. I absolutely abhor bare feet because of this. Although I have generally lived in colder climates where one cannot wear sandals in the winter, finding “appropriate” socks that I can deal with wearing has been a trial: one (supposedly) cannot wear their fun socks with designs on them to a party, so one must wear nice socks or tights. Find a pair or two of socks and shoes that fit the holiday season that feel really good on your feet, and you’ll be much happier. Another thought is that if you live somewhere that requires snow boots, bring additional footwear to the party: a favorite pair of slippers or shoes that can be traded for the snow boots when you get inside. There’s much to be said for having “happy feet”.

DO: Bring your own indoor shoes/socks, dress for comfort first. If your clothes hurt you, you won’t have enough brain power left to function at the actual event.

DO NOT: Buy fancy clothes unless you’ve tried them on first, or assume that “it’s just for a couple of hours”.

TIP: One or two holiday outfits that have similar textures and styles to regularly worn comfortable clothes will go a long way.

Happy Holidays!



  1. I remember sitting under the table at my aunt’s house hiding from the video camera my cousins had (this was when they first became affordable to regular people so it was a new experience and terrified me).

    I hate when my feet are cold. If it’s family, I take my slippers along!

    • Oh god, that sounds awful. My mom always has a camera so I’m used to that, but we never had a video camera.

  2. […] nothing was coming close to that first post. So I decided I’d go to holiday theme, and thus my “An Autistic’s Holiday Survival Guide” posts were born. I wrote “Words” on the plane flight back home – my […]

  3. E,
    These articles are a really good read, and have given me some insight into my son’s reaction to holiday parties. I hope you don’t mind but I’ve linked to this first one on my own blog, The Photographer Dad.

  4. […] is part 4 of my Autistic’s Holiday Survival Guide. (Part 1: Clothes, Part 2: Attending Parties, and Part 3: Hosting Parties can be found at the links given.) I will […]

  5. […] Part 1: Clothes […]

  6. Can add a suggestion for the Xmas clothing list? Vests. I have found wearing cotton vests (or long sleeve cotton tops, if cold enough) as my first working layer, really helps with random festive clothing.

    I think I may have to print this out for this year’s festivities – a copy for each family member to read…

    • Cool! Vests and I do NOT get along at all (I’m twitching just thinking about it) but if they work for you, that’s awesome! 🙂

      • 🙂

  7. Finding comfortable underwear is a nightmare. Recently stretch seamless pull-on bras have appeared all over the place and they are the best solution I have found so far for the upper storey, especially if worn inside-out so the smoothest side of the fabric is against the skin. Inside-out really works well. But if I’m having a ‘tight’ day I have to go without. I now only wear soft stretch leggings (Marks & Spencers’ are very comfy) as the edges of normal briefs cut and irritate dreadfully. Inside-out of course. And for slips, scratchy clingy horrible nylon has been replaced by fine soft cotton night-dresses over which I put on well-cut full-length skirts (no waistbands to constrict) and loose jumpers or soft shirts. Men’s sweaters are often much better than women’s. This style can be made as dressy as I need to be, or very casual, looks nice, and works well. All labels have to be removed (very fiddly) after which I can forget I’m in clothes. Until I’m back home in a fleece dressing-gown and then I don’t want to get dressed again – often as not I don’t. Thank Heaven for an understanding husband!

  8. “DO NOT: Buy fancy clothes unless you’ve tried them on first, or assume that “it’s just for a couple of hours”.”
    “Just for a couple of hours”
    Ha ha ha ha ha ha.
    “just sitting on a wasps nest for a couple of hours”

    You have good advice.

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