Guest blogger: Julie Hornok
My daughter with autism, Lizzie, always had a different style. From a very early age she showed strong opinions about what she wanted to wear. When it was hot outside, she dressed in layers. When it was cold, she dressed in short sleeves. She put plaids with polka dots and red with pink.
When I found out I was having a girl, I went overboard with the clothes. During my pregnancy, I took great joy in buying her adorable outfits with matching everything…matching socks, matching shoes, matching bonnets, and matching bows. Before she was even born, she had a full walk-in closet of pink and purple clothes that would last her through the first two years of her life. I loved opening that closet and sifting through the clothes, while dreaming up fun activities she and I would do together.
By the time she started kindergarten, she began to adamantly fight what I had planned for her to wear. She would throw the clothes down on the ground and then throw herself on the ground in protest. “Maybe she doesn’t understand,” I thought, “I just need to teach her the art of matching.” I tried pairing all her outfits together in her closet…matching shirt, matching skirt and socks all on the same hanger. I made a special dressing area for her and hung the outfit by the mirror for her to easily put on the clothes each morning. But every morning, she would go back into her closet and play a game of mix and match with what I had planned for her. Sometimes two differently colored socks and button down shirts with sweat pants. She already didn’t fit in, and I worried her clothing choices would make her stand out even more.
So for this reason, I was more excited than any mom about “Crazy Dress Day” at school. This day was made for her! Finally, she would fit in and look like the rest of the kids as she walked to school and up and down the halls. I waited in anticipation to see what she would come up with and hoped today would be one of her craziest days. When she walked out of her room, my jaw dropped. She had put together a perfectly matching outfit from head-to-toe! I had lost all control.
After walking her to school in her matching outfit, I stood around chatting with some of the other moms. I shared how this Crazy Dress Day was made for Lizzie, and she totally snubbed it. All I wanted was for her to fit it…even if it was only for a day. One of the other moms politely suggested, “Well, maybe she isn’t being difficult or snubbing the day. Maybe what we think is matching is actually crazy to her and vice versa.” This new view was a light bulb moment for me.
Doing things differently is not wrong. Thinking differently is not wrong. The way she was dressing had nothing to do with me at all. She was expressing herself in her own way…in a way that made her feel beautiful. And who was I to keep her from being true to herself? She didn’t need to fit in because she was born to shine.
I began to expand this view to other areas of her life…trying to understand the intention behind her every action. She is different and beautiful and smart just as she is. And not only that, but if we slow down to really listen, her different view can expand and complement our “typical” thinking in ways that will challenge and change our world.
After that day, I let Lizzie be Lizzie, and we celebrated her different thinking brain. We even encouraged her crazy clothing choices…until she switched to a private school and was required to wear a uniform.
Julie Hornok is an author, speaker, event planner and advocate for autism. Her writing has appeared in Parenting Special Needs Magazine, Autism Parenting Magazine, AutismSpot, Thrive Magazine, Literary Mama, Chicken Soup for the Soul series and many more. Her first book, United in Autism: Finding Strength Inside the Spectrum, will be released on October 2, 2018 and is available for pre-order now.