This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week!
Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of neurological differences including Autism, ADHD, OCD, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia - the term is thought to have been coined by Autism activist Judy Singer in the 1990s in a bid to move away from the ’medical’ view of autism. 1 in 5 human beings are neurodivergent.
To mark the week, some of our neurodivergent staff members wanted share their experiences with you, to open and normalise the conversation around neurodivergence.
We're also thrilled to have a guest blog written by the wonderful Cheryl of @_thislineismine on TikTok and Instagram. Cheryl (she/they) is a Neurodivergent Creator and makes positive, educational content about their experiences with Autism.
“Will it cling to me? What if it has itchy labels? The waistband – will it dig in? Is the material soft, harsh, scratchy or fluffy? Can I feel the seams?”
These are just some of the questions I ask when considering a new piece of clothing. And while it’s true that many people will have the same questions (and more!) the significance of these questions, and their outcome, are profoundly important for Neurodivergent people who have sensory needs.
As an Autistic person, I am acutely aware of the sensory needs and experiences I have with clothing. Since I was diagnosed as Autistic in 2018, I have made changes to my life to further accommodate my Autistic needs which, for most my life, I ignored. For the past year, I have dedicated myself to boosting Autism and Mental Health awareness on TikTok (you can find me here! https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMerVWV2p/ ).
Sensory needs are now high on my agenda as they have a profound impact on my mood, energy and resilience. This realisation led me to discover that my clothing choices were directly impacting me! So, I wanted to share my experiences in a blog post and highlight the various sensory needs in clothing for Neurodivergent people. Everything I have included is informed by Neurodivergent people’s experiences, including my own.
What is the negative impact of clothing on sensory needs?
I believe to understand the importance of accommodating clothing for sensory needs, it must first be understood the negative impact that clothing can have on this. Clothing can provide comfort, self-expression and security, yet in a Neurodivergent person it can also provide feelings of irritation, pain or anxiety. An item of clothing which is poor for sensory needs can contribute to sensory overload in a Neurodivergent person; this is a distressing experience due to too much or too little sensory stimuli.
As an Autistic person, I am constantly thinking will this outfit be bearable for me to wear today? The resilience a person can have to an outfit can change on a daily or even hourly basis. For example, if a t-shirt is clingy and rides up, I am unlikely to be able to wear it. This is due to the material having close contact to my skin and ‘sticking’ to it. I would have to constantly adjust the top and pull it down to reduce the feelings of tightness. The top could contribute to feelings of irritation, frustration and even anxiety if I was leaving the house in it. If I wore it for a prolonged period of time this could lead to exhaustion due to a combination of repetitive thoughts around the texture of the top and the action of constantly adjusting it.
It baffles me that for years I ignored my own sensory needs and would rather wear what was deemed ‘fashionable’ to fit in, over what made me feel happy as a person. In recent years, I have embraced my sensory needs and now have an accommodating wardrobe that matches – and Lucy & Yak clothing has totally supported me on this journey.
Why is material and fit important?
It is common for Neurodivergent people to prefer true to size or oversized clothing over tight or clingy designs. This can be due to the clothing feeling too tight or the material feeling too stiff. The beauty of oversized clothing for some people is how the material has less contact with your skin. This reduces sensitivities. It hangs down and is long enough with little need for adjustment. It is common for oversized or true to size clothing to be a ‘go to’ for Neurodivergent people. In my experience, every comfort hoodie I’ve ever had has been too big for me.
Materials used in clothing design is crucial. Material likes and dislikes are varied for each person and the way the material is used can influence this. For example, I love fluffy material in a blanket but would never wear it on myself! I’d be too hot and feel bulky in a sensory way. This being said, a common theme is Neurodivergent people like soft material which is moveable and stays a good quality when washed. I think everyone can agree when I say there’s nothing more disappointing when you wash a favourite item of clothing and the material degrades quickly! Suddenly your soft jumper is harsh and rough - this is a nightmare for Neurodivergent people. We want to wear our clothing without being reminded or distracted by textures we do not like. Lucy & Yak use a range of materials such as Corduroy, Cotton, Denim and Fleece. I appreciate the fact that Yaks come in a range of different material choices, in a whole spectrum of colours – this empowers me to choose dungarees in a colour and material I prefer, to suit my sensory needs!
How do the finer details like labels, pockets, waistbands, and necklines impact on sensory needs?
An area which could be improved upon in fashion, is clothing design, namely making the design of clothing more inclusive for not only Neurodivergent people but for Disabled people in general. Something as simple as designing smart or casual trousers with stretchy waistbands could go a long way to improve the choices of clothing for Disabled people. Sometimes, I want casual trousers with a stretchy waistband that aren’t joggers! I want to look nice but be comfortable too. This is why I love my Lucy & Yak Camden trousers – the waist is stretchy, but they still look smart.
Other areas that should be considered are necklines, pocket size and labels (or lack of). As an Autistic person, I struggle with high necklines. These are often tight and uncomfortable, whereas I want clothing to sit relaxed around my neck.
Further, pocket sizes are frustrating! I want my pockets to have a purpose. I want to be able to use them – that’s why I love the pockets in Lucy & Yak dungarees. I can put earphones, fidget toys, lanyards or anything I’d like quick access to in there without losing it!
Finally, clothing labels. I am still unsure of their purpose besides annoying me. I shouldn't have to take a pair of scissors to my new item of clothing to remove an itchy label! I’m also convinced labels have a mind of their own. They just like to poke out and move around however they please.
What is “sensory seeking”?
As part of the sensory needs in Neurodivergent people, some can sensory seek. Sensory seeking is where someone seeks out or engages in a sensory experience to get feedback from their environment. This can help soothe them or make them feel more present! For me, the main way I sensory seek is through my clothing. I love bright colours and my wardrobe is multicoloured and bright. This makes me happy! It uplifts my mood, helps me feel more positive and grounds me in overwhelming situations. My need for sensory seeking in my clothing is one of the main reasons I found Lucy & Yak. I remember the first time I saw their website I was excited! It was like their clothing spoke to me. It was bright, bold and patterned. It was everything that makes me happy.
The problem of choice, and gender expression
Another area Neurodivergent people can struggle in is outfit choice. This could be due to there being too much choice, being unsure of what goes together or the gender expression of the clothing. Having too much choice can be overwhelming as it’s difficult to narrow down options. I often get overwhelmed when picking out what to wear and I have to plan my outfits in advance to reduce this. The great thing about Lucy & Yak clothing is that it’s easy to mix and match different items to make an outfit. This makes the entire process of getting dressed quicker and more straight forward. Also, Lucy & Yak clothing is gender neutral which I love! This really supports me in creating an outfit that supports my gender expression and identity.
And another thing…
Sensory needs in clothing are an often-overlooked area that has not been widely spoken about in the fashion industry. However, it can have a huge impact on Neurodiverse people’s lives. It’s important to remember that Neurodiversity is a spectrum and every person on that spectrum has different experiences, strengths and weakness. An experience for one person may not be an issue for another. A ‘solution’ for one person could be a difficulty for another! The experiences mentioned are influenced from other Neurodiverse people’s experiences, as well as my own, but these may not relate to every Neurodiverse person out there.
This blog mentioned several difficulties and strengths clothing can have on a person’s life such as, material, sensory seeking, design and easy outfit choice but there are other areas out there. I hope this blog has gone someway in raising awareness sensory needs in clothing, and that it’s piqued your interest to find out more about some of the others!