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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

How to Meet an Autistic Adult Exactly Where They're At

Dear Friendly Clothing Store Clerk,

Autistic art therapist Jackie Schuld shares a watercolor illustration of a distressed caterpillar
"Help" Watercolor illustration by Jackie Schuld

I’m not even sure what your title is.

What I do know is that I walked into your store on the verge of tears.

All I needed was one sweater. One sweater for my trip to a cold place that very week.

You didn’t know I had gone to every single store in the mall.

You didn’t know I’m autistic and have extreme sensory perception with my skin.

You didn’t know I needed a sweater that was big, yet moveable. Soft, but the right kind of soft. Warm, but not itchy. Comfy, but still formal looking.

You didn’t know I usually wear the same thing every day because I find it so challenging to feel comfortable in my clothes.

You didn’t know that after trying on sweater after sweater, I was in a nervous system overload.

I was on the verge of tears.

You asked if you could help me. Just like all of the other stores. All of the other stores where they genuinely tried, but kept offering things outside my parameters. Which then made me feel bad and odd and like I wish I hadn’t responded when they asked if I needed help.

I was at my edge after this. No more stores. And yet I needed a sweater. That was also pushing me toward the edge of a meltdown.

So when you asked if I needed help, it just came pouring out, “I’ve been to every store trying to find a sweater, including this one. But I can’t find anything right. I’m autistic and this is just really hard.”

Something in your eyes clicked. I could tell you heard me and felt for me. And it’s like some part of you knew you just needed to take over.

You immediately directed me to some clothing racks and offered solutions to my odd combinations of requests. You gave me things two sizes up and took me in clothing sections I hadn’t considered.

You even suggested alternatives.

You then even hung around as I tried different options and told me how they looked, even telling me which one didn’t look warm enough.

When you heard where I was going and my need for warmth, you suggested warm fleece leggings, that you gave me a size up because you had heard I don’t’ like things tight. I thought they would be itchy, but they were heavenly.

You even gave me a lint brush because my long sleeve black shirt I wear all of the time had gotten dirty from trying on all the sweaters.

Thank you for being so kind to me.

Thank you for meeting me where I was at in that moment.

Thank you for giving me over 10 things to try on in multiple sizes and ensuring I found something.

I understand it’s your job, but I also felt you saw the humanity in me. The suffering at that moment and you helped me in a unique way.

So thank you again for that.

If you hadn’t intervened, I would have walked to my car and sat and cried. I would have lost another day trying to find a sweater.

To anyone else it’s just a sweater.

But to an autistic like me, it was everything.




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