As a student I engaged with and friended many of my classmates with special needs, but I never had a true understanding of some of their obstacles. I now believe many of these obstacles go overlooked and unnoticed.
I will even shamefully admit that when I interacted with some of those friends who wore sweat pants on a daily basis or loose non fitting clothing; I simply assumed they didn’t have a grasp on dressing properly. Looking back I wonder how I like so many of my peers blindly came to these unfair and undermining conclusions.
Then I fearfully remember that not all of my classmates rushed to friend these individuals or offered kindness. Some would ignore their presence and some had even acted worse. At my current age and now a parent I also have an extended realization that parents can act these same ways amongst one another.
It’s that time of year again where summer is winding down and the “back-to-school” themes are developing. This school year will be my tenth since graduating, and wow does time fly. This prompted me to take a trip down memory lane to my high school days which still feel like yesterday, not a full decade ago. After the sometimes stressful back to school shopping chaos comes the buzz from the first few weeks. This period was always fun as I was excited to catch up with friends, share my summer stories, and it provided a fresh start with new possibilities.
The hallways were vibrant with fresh paint, the weather was still nice, and students and faculty had glowing warm smiles and attitudes. Every new school year was accompanied with fashion swings and brand-new clothing. Brightly colored with those new smells still attached, you couldn’t wait to wear them out. In my case my mother, armed with a justifiable lack of trust in my decisions, prohibited me from wearing them until school started. The morning routine of getting ready for class was even fun then. This period however, was brief; unfortunately ending once your schedule sank in and everyone buckled down to work.
New outfits made you feel confident, dressed to impress and ambitious for your new start. These feelings grew as I aged and my appearance became more important socially. Even as a young man, I spent way more time changing outfits and looking in the mirror while getting ready every morning that I can admit to comfortably.
A few teasings and social pressures were my only troubles throughout school which were eventually overcome when I reached an age that I could work and purchase my own wardrobe. Now that I’m working with special needs families on a daily basis, I have learned firsthand the clothing challenges that many individuals and their families go through on a daily basis. Disabilities can make finding proper fitting and appropriate clothing a daunting task for some.
With this new knowledge applied I then retraced my memories a second time. Economic restrictions were the only troubles I faced, but what about the classmates that I went to school with who were overcoming disabilities? Some of their families also were very financially strained which I now know is caused by high insurance rates, medical expenses and sometimes increased challenges limiting a parent’s working availability.
Clothing off the rack no matter how cheap sometimes simply won’t fit these children’s unique body types, work with their sensory challenges, or carry no buttons and zippers which allows their independent dressing. Second hand clothing from others provides zero solutions to these issues. Even the families who could afford to purchase expensive name brand items which were more socially popular found nothing to assist their unique dressing needs. Immediately this triggered questions to swirl throughout my mind pulling me out of my peaceful trip down memory lane.
- Did these students ever feel the same back to school buzz that I did? How often did they wear a new outfit and go through the halls with that pep in their step thinking; I look good today?
- How often were they granted the luxury of feeling the positive aspects clothing can create; or were they more focused on the visual physical separations and functionalities of their outfits?
- Are uniformed schools the simple solution, or are these students with clothing restrictions forced to stand out even further if they can’t wear the school’s uniform?
Lastly I wondered why I had never realized these issues occurred during my time in school.
I love working with these individuals and getting to know them as people instead of by their differences. I’m blessed enough every day to develop more of these friendships and continue to engage in these moments. Seeing these individuals light up after finally finding clothes that fit and allow them to look like all their peers is a very rewarding experience.
Reflecting on my own “back-to-school” memories has reconfirmed the importance of advocating for fashion and clothing changes for those whose voices have not been heard. I will remain very motivated in this cause and hopefully it will trigger a positive change in the “back-to-school” experience of every student. If more individuals are educated on these dressing struggles I believe a true sense of acceptance will be developed. The acceptance will not only decrease bullying, but will hopefully urge more to join this mission.
Together we can be the force to provide actual fashion options, and dressing independence for those being left out. I believe if everyone retraced and shared their memories about heading back to school they would understand and also want change.
About William Herron
William Herron grew up in a small town east of Cleveland, joined and served 4 years in the military, returned home to graduate from Lake Erie College with Communications and Marketing. He is now a proud father to a beautiful 2 year old daughter, remain an avid and heartbroken Cleveland sports fanatic, and enjoy my work helping others here at Downs Designs Dreams (NBZ & Downs Designs)
You can contact him at: William@DownsDesignsDreams.org