Lingerie and Autism

When you are on the Autistic spectrum, however, things become a little bit more complicated.3 min

With the luscious velvet straps, ruched material and embroidery to boot, it really ought to be considered as a piece of modern-day, high-end artwork – and all for a very affordable price for the everyday person. Reader, you guessed it; we are talking about the modern-day state of underwear. Lingerie has evolved past the point of just white drawers and long johns – enough so that you can invest time and money in underwear that is as seductive as it is aesthetically pleasing to look at.

When you are on the Autistic spectrum, however, things become a little bit more complicated, especially when it comes to clothing and a state of undress.

What Is The Problem?

To have Autism Spectrum Disorder (sometimes also referred to as Aspergers Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Condition, because of the time period or where you are based) presents a whole host of hallmarks. Every individual is entirely different and will experience being on the spectrum uniquely and individually.

A lot of the hallmarks relate to personal sensitivities – and they are not just a habit or a personal preference. Autistic people can be generally divided into two categories, here on in; sensory seekers (hypo-sensitive) and sensory avoiders (hypersensitive.) As an example; I am hypersensitive to noise, in that I find too much incredibly painful – and it has a painful, knock-on, physical impact. When it comes to food, I am a sensory seeker – the spicier, the better!

When it comes to undergarments, however, this presents an array of issues. Small buttons are useless if you have issues with your fine motor skills; materials and the tight, taut feel of a bra can be sensory hell. Practical styles of knickers are not exactly widely used, either; let’s be honest – the feel of your backside being bifurcated in half is not exactly pleasant. And yet, this is still just sort of accepted.

Emily blogs over at 21andsensory, and is also an illustrator by trade. She is Autistic and also has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD.) She said: “I think current trends are all to do with very fancy, Lacy fabrics.

“When actually I just want something comfy, with no labels or complicated itchy seams – Like seamless fabrics are amazing for sensory issues.”

The commonly given example, when it comes to clothing, is Autistic people struggling with labels in the physical garment. But what happens when most trends rely upon a lot of seams and lace?

Charli Clement is an activist and speaker. She said: “I think for me the biggest thing surrounds sensory issues – primarily with seams and labels – being prominent/itchy.

“I prefer things to be seamless and without labels so that I don’t feel constantly focused on how my body feels when I’m trying to go about my day.

“The same thing extends to the material – I need it to be soft and in a shape that doesn’t cut into my stomach or legs, so I don’t like a lot of current shapes or trends like lace.”

As an awkward, undiagnosed teenager, this was a whole new world to have to suddenly grapple with – and trying to get used to being tightly wrapped in with wire that would poke, straps and buttons that were impossible to navigate, and fabric so itchy, anything ‘underwear’ was taboo for a long time for me. Meltdowns would ensure and have a knock-on impact.

Things are slowly beginning to change, such as with lockdowns lifting and subscription boxes coming back into fashion; there are options for a monthly supply to be posted to you, chosen specifically with your needs in mind. But what needs to be done to be fully inclusive?

How To Be More Accessible

Victoria Ellen is a PHD student, and also runs the Actually Autistic Instagram page.

“I think there’s a fabric issue, depending on the brand, most underwear is [not] sensory-friendly and doesn’t cater for Disabled/Autistic needs.

“I think there needs to be more choice available too because sometimes I want more “sexy” appealing underwear but most times they aren’t sensory-friendly.

“It would be good for companies to reach out to autistic people and for them (us) to have some input.”

Sometimes it can feel a little like Autistic people are viewed as sexless beings; this was even pointed out on an older episode of 1800 Seconds On Autism, a monthly BBC podcast. By being careful of the material used – or, better still, having extra inclusive options – would make lingerie more accessible for individuals on the Autistic spectrum. Is it also sexy to have to struggle with teeny tiny buttons? A discreet zip would do just the trick – and would also be beneficial for others outside the neurodivergent sphere. To be practical should not equal dull and boring; it could be of use to everyone.

Some brands are making more inclusive options. Victoria’s Secret has a type of knickers that have only one seam, for example; Wuka is also making period friendly underwear. But physical accessibility should also be taken into consideration, too – such as accessing a shop or being able to afford a product if on a lower income.

We have come a long way – and slowly but surely, things are beginning to change. There are even Autism-friendly clothing brands, for example. But lingerie is the last part of the puzzle – and progress is still ongoing.

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Lydia Wilkins

"Lydia Wilkins is a freelance journalist covering disability and social justice issues. Her first book, The Autism Friendly Cookbook, is due out in 2022.".

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