When Ben started school when he was two years old, my mom said, what I thought at the time was, the strangest thing. She said, “Make sure Ben always looks neat and is clean.” Like any daughter might, I thought she was crazy. Why of course Ben will be neat and clean, I would never let him out of the house any other way.
Four years later, I still think about that comment. I make sure that Ben looks his best everyday – his hair is neat, clothes clean. There was a time when I gave Ben a bath every morning before school so his hair looked just right, but I gave that up after son #3 was born. And I realized it was a bit obsessive too. Now I keep his hair short and he gets a bath and a shampoo every night. Ben does have beautiful yet unruly hair.
Our children with special needs may look and act differently, raise eyebrows and get stares. The last thing we want is for their hair to be a mess, clothes dirty or disheveled. I get what my mom was saying - Ben's different, but don't make him any more different than he has to be.
But with all the challenges in our way, dressing and hygiene care seem like more hurdles to stumble over. I would argue that it is a necessary obstacle for parents to overcome for every child, typical or otherwise. Whether we agree with it or not, people are judged by their appearance. A clean, properly dressed child is treated with more respect than one who smells bad or has on dirty clothing.
We have been very fortunate to have had many friends pass down their children’s clothing. Thrift stores, yard sales and consignment shops offer amazing ways to clothe your children. There are also community agencies and church groups that offer free or low cost clothing for families.
I know the time and effort we take to make sure Ben’s outward appearance is clean and neat makes him more approachable, helping pave the way for friendships, mentoring and furthering his growth.