A Northumberland company is following in the footsteps of M&S by creating clothing suitable for children on the autism spectrum.
Last year the High Street giant worked with the National Autistic Society to produce an “Easy Dressing” school uniform.
Now the charity has teamed up with The All-in-One Company of Ashington which, with the help of local autistic children, has produced The Sensory Onesie.
“An extra aspect of autism, which isn’t in the diagnostic criteria, is the sensory element – and it’s very apparent,” said Helen Sutherland, the mother of one of the children. “It can be smell, it can be taste, it can be texture…but – generally, definitely – it can be touch.”
Helen, from Belford, chairs the North Northumberland branch of the National Autistic Society and was asked by the charity to help The All-in-One Company’s designers.
Onesies are many children’s favourite thing to wear, but autistic children find the traditional design uncomfortable. Helen’s daughter, nine-year-old Daphne has two. “One is a cast off and one was a present – but they just hang in the wardrobe,” said her mother.
Daphne finds leggings too tight and dresses instead in boys’ trousers because they are much baggier. “We have to choose clothes so carefully. Children don’t like labels because they find them really scratchy. They’re hypersensitive to seams and materials. Tight cuffs irritate them. They don’t like press studs as opposed to zips,” said Helen.
Daphne, her friend Grace – who’s also nine – and other children with autism visited The All-in-One Company’s factory to help its team develop a onesie which would be suitable for them. They were asked which fabrics they preferred for softness, warmth and comfort and what they would find uncomfortable.
“The girls have thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s given them a voice. They know they’ve been listened to. I think that’s huge for them. It makes them feel less of a minority,” said Grace’s mother Claire Wilce, who lives in Chatton in Northumberland. Grace’s two brothers are also autistic.
Donna Swan, who runs Calmer Therapy – a support group in Ashington for parents of children with additional needs – also brought her son, 10-year-old Joshua, and eight other children to The All-in-One Company to advise its designers.
“He has to wear a white t-shirt under everything,” she said. “He’ll not wear jeans or anything that’s too tight or anything that comes to his neck. But there are children who are a lot worse than him. For some, it’s quite painful, and can lead to massive behavioural problems.”
She added: “Something as simple as changing their clothes can just fix it like that – like a magic wand. Trying to get him out of his onesie might become another issue, though!”
It is estimated that more than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and in the UK there are around 700,000 people affected by this lifelong developmental disability. World Autism Awareness Week takes place later this month and raising money by wearing onesies on Onesie Wednesday has been a prominent feature in previous years.
“We’ve always supported the National Autistic Society because of that, but we wanted to take it further,” said Kate Dawson who set up the multi-award winning The All-in-One Company in 2008, after she was unable to find an appropriate sleepsuit for her daughter, and helped create a new fashion phenomenon.
“The children all told me what they wanted on their onesies and having the ability to choose not to have a hood or feet or to have the feet detachable was a huge revelation. They loved the idea of creating their own and making it just as they wanted,” she said.
“When given their first Sensory Onesie to try all three children loved them and didn’t want to take them off to go home! We are over the moon to have been able to help the National Autistic Society and children and adults affected by autism, making their lives a little bit more comfortable and snuggletastic.”
After its successful trial The Sensory Onesie is now for sale through The All-in-One Company’s website (www.the-all-in-one-company.co.uk/onesies/sensory-onesie) where children and adults can create their own design and choose whether or not they want a hood, feet, pockets and even ears or tails. The company will send a fabric swatch sample pack so they can decide which material – soft fleece, sweatshirt, cotton t-shirt, organic cotton and bamboo towelling – feels most comfortable.
“We will do the rest,” said Kate, “to make sure the seams are just how they like them and no labels attached.”
Kelly Railton, of the National Autistic Society, said: “Many autistic people are acutely sensitive to the texture of standard clothing fabrics and to seams and labels. This can mean that they are unable to put on clothes which others find comfortable to wear.
“We’re very grateful to The All-in-One Company for donating 5% from the sale of this onesie to the charity, which will help provide vital support to autistic people and their families across the UK.”