“Are you ready to go back to school?!” is everyone’s favorite question to ask these days. My son Whit usually smiles this smug smile and gives a wink. Our soon-to-be-4-year-old, Vivi, tells everyone no. Every year I have this hope that Whitman will want to pick out his backpack, lunch box, and some clothes to rock his school year. Every year it’s just him looking at things and shrugging. We have Vivi’s back-to-school shopping done. We’re just waiting for her unicorn backpack to arrive. But Whit is always tricky. You have to approach it in a way that gets him excited.
In a way, I feel heard. Whit needs a little extra help with jeans zippers and pull-on jeans just don’t give him the dignity he deserves, so we usually stick to sweatpants with the occasional khaki and hope his teachers help him if needed. It’s hard to find clothes that fit Whit’s sensory needs.
It’s not just about cutting out a tag (although we do that)—it’s about finding clothes that are lightweight and comfortable so he can excel in what he’s doing. If it’s too heavy, he’ll get hot and strip because even the slightest drop of sweat is unacceptable in his book. If it’s too light and he’s cold, he won’t sit still and he’ll run around to make himself warm. Adding a jacket or another layer after the fact isn’t an option; once the jacket is off, if he puts it back on he assumes it’s time to leave. So it’s a fine line. We’ve been called to the school before because his butt got wet on the slide and he refused to put on the pants we had at school for him. The same happened with his shoes and socks.
Big stores have done amazing and made affordable adaptive clothes for kids. JCPenney even has husky sizes for their new adaptive clothing line. One thing I learned with Whit this past school year is he just wants to belong. He is well aware of his peers and wants to dress and be like them. With low muscle tone and delay in some other skills, dressing like peers isn’t always an option, but now I feel like we have options. I feel seen and heard.
I feel like maybe this year will be the year we as a special needs family are a little closer to full inclusion.
Full inclusion is a hope and dream of mine. Where no child who is different is forced to feel different, and is always included. Where parents can run to a store and get a new shirt for their child who has an ostomy bag and can get a cover in-store; where feeding tube parents can get a shirt that doesn’t irritate the button. If you’re reading this unaware of any of this, consider yourself lucky.
Adaptation clothing in big stores is such an amazing step in the right direction. I have always felt that being in the special needs world, you’re always trying to fit at a table not made for you—but because your table hasn’t been created yet, you’re forced to sit there. It’s hard and uncomfortable. There are feelings of failure that really aren’t your failures. My prayer is that with these subtle changes, things will keep coming and we can be in a world where there is full inclusion at playgrounds, beaches, airports, anywhere your heart can imagine.
One step at a time, I truly feel we are getting there.