Thursday 26 October 2017

My boy was afraid of his own mummy costume

Why my autistic son has a fear of his own mummy costume.

It seems we've had several occasions for dressing up recently.  School theme days, assemblies and the odd party has meant pulling out the sewing kit or creating paper mâché masks.  On this occasion Anthony dressed as an Egyptian Mummy.  But not after some commotion that reminds me he's still a vulnerable young lad.

Anthony is out nine year old autistic son who, has over the years, got used to the idea of not going out in 'normal clothes' or 'school clothes'.  This might seem odd but we initially took a lot of time to prepare him this kind of change in his routine.

Years ago we used to ask Anthony what he'd like to dress up for events. Then we realised that this often adds pressure. Anthony finds making decisions very difficult so we make suggestions. More often than not Anthony would be glad of our suggestion, I think it relieved some of the pressure and unpredictability for him.

However, the night before this dressing up encounter, Anthony suddenly declared he'd like to go as an Egyptian Mummy. I was delighted that he had expressed an opinion, but it meant coming up with a new costume. Usually we'd try out Anthony's outfits to give him time to adjust and know what to expect. So, I got out clothes I thought I could adapt into an Egyptian Mummy and showed them to Anthony. I told him I'd add bandages to them for the next day. I spent a good chunk of the night sewing white ribbons onto clothes.

In the morning everything went as normal until it was time for Anthony to get dressed. His face dropped, he looked hot and his eyes became all glazed. "There aren't enough bandages on the trousers mum," he said.

The morning routine in our home is fairly regimented. It avoids down time distractions so there isn't a lot of time for things like fixing fancy dress costumes. As I looked at Anthony I could see the panic on his face. His costume was not what he expected. It's not the same as Jane being disappointed that her snack is a banana instead of the apple like she'd wanted. It's a completely different level. It's a fear of things not being right.  It's a level of anxiety that can completely overwhelm him.

Sometimes we can help Anthony deal with this fear but looking at him then, I could tell this wasn't one of those times. I told Anthony I'd fix his trousers after while he had his breakfast. As Anthony made his way to the kitchen table he started to calm down, "Thanks mum, 10 more bandages would be enough."

Right... 10 more bandages....

Obviously I'd already used all the white ribbon and I quickly discovered the actual bandages from the medicine box were useless. As I began just trawling through washing for a clue I remembered we'd recently torn up an old white work shirt for cleaning cloths. Yes! Three safety pins later and Anthony was back on course again.

He inspected his trousers and counted the new bandages.  He seemed excited and extremely bouncy. It would have been easy to assume that this indicated he was all set for the day but I know different. His excitement and bounciness could indeed be part joy at the fun that was lined up for the day. However, I suspect he was also coping with the nerves and anxiety at the differences it would mean.

We are really delighted that Anthony can take part in these fancy-dress activities. Every time he copes with something new or a change to his routine, is a chance for him to develop and use strategies to cope with it. This type of skill could really help him when he gets older and allow him to be independent.

As for decision making, we are still working on that. Despite his apparent keenness on his mummy costume, Anthony collapsed the day later because he changed his mind and said he wished he'd dressed up as something else.  A spider maybe.  And while I was thankful I'd not had to come up with eight black flurry legs overnight I did wonder. Spiders definitely have eight legs so at least the costume would have been right, and Anthony may have had the chance of not being afraid of his own costume.  Who knows?  He may only have changed his mind again anyway.

This post also supports The Makaton Charity #wetalkmakaton sign of the week 'Spider'


  1. Haha I must send you the pic of Sasha as a spider last year! I made her Dad make the costume, I didn't have the energy ;) I so relate to this post. Sasha has rarely ever done dressing up, apart from Halloween which she bizarrely seems to love!

  2. Hats off for coming up with a super impressive outfit overnight! I'm pleased you managed to fix it so that Anthony was comfortable and able to enjoy his day. Thanks for joining us at #TriumphantTales, hope to see you again next week. X


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