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Autism/Daughter's special interest (do I need to be concerned?)

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Question
I'm writing from the UK. I have two children; a 21-year-old son who's in university [lives away from home] and a 24-year-old daughter, Trish*, diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.
She's had some struggles in high school, but been supported throughout.

She hasn't got many obsessions, only a few special interests, but they're not "odd" as some other ones with autism (I read Patricia Howlin's book from 2004, Autism and social functioning in adulthood). Her interests are cars, fashion, travel and cooking.
She isn't severely impaired [is too road safety-conscious as a pedestrian, checks a lot for risk].

However, recently, she's become obsessed with Playboy and Hollister clothing, and wears nothing but a Hollister bikini around the house - she says she feels most comfortable in bikinis, and wants a job where she can wear them 24-7. She has few friends, except for a Swedish-British girl [isn't that like your hyphenated-Canadians?] called Maria* , 24 yrs old, who has pretty much the same interests as her (fashion/Katy Perry/cars/travel/modelling) - and Maria* considers my daughter her only real friend, my daughter Trish* is the same. My daughter wears one particular bikini from Hollister regardless of the weather - even if it's bitterly cold.
They like taking photos of each other modelling - but unlike other girls their age, neither uses social networking, they prefer Hotmail, Gmail etc. - and they've both been bullied by people in work for not having Facebook accounts. Maria* dubbed Facebook as
"Facecrook" due to the amount of fake profiles on there [from an article she read in the local paper]. So the issue of these photos reaching the web probably won't be an issue.

I'm a bit concerned about her interest in bikinis as her only clothing; isn't it a bit risky, and aren't there legal issues with wearing nothing but bikinis in public in some places? [she told me her motives for wearing them weren't sexual, just comfort].

She wants to be like Karlie Kloss and Cara Delevigne, her idols, who's a Victoria's Secret model, even if it's just for a catalogue, and has tried to make herself look a bit like them.

She also spends hours looking at the [female] models on purestorm.com - a modelling site, which is not pornographic, and very family-friendly [according to Google anyway].

Whilst I'm pleased she has an interest, it's the obsession with bikinis that's causing me and her dad a little concern; how should we handle this?

All advice is very much appreciated. (I notice in your profile you have a site called autismsite.ca, feel free to use my submission].

* Names have been changed to protect privacy of my daughter and her friend.

Answer
Hello Kristina,

I was unable to tell is another expert answered your question while I was away, so thought I should contact you just in case.

First, I'm glad to hear that your daughter is in university and living on her own. Sadly, both of those are milestones that elude far too many people with Asperger's.

Taking an interest in fashion does not sound odd for a young woman. Choosing to wear only a bikini in public is.

I am unsure of the by-laws in your part of the UK but you might want to check to see if there are dress codes, etc. Many people on the autism spectrum are "rule-governed" and if you can show her the rule, your daughter may comply.

Exposing that much of your skin to the cold is concerning. There is that aspect of this, but of even greater concern to me would be the message she is giving other people when she displays that much of her body publicly. It's appropriate at the pool or ocean when everyone is wearing similar apparel but not on a typical street.

Often people with Asperger's or autism tend to be naive. They may not notice or correctly interpret sly looks or innuendos. I would worry that your daughter may give someone the message that she's interested in a sexual dalliance when that is not her intention. People driving by may think that she is advertising her wares and seeking customers. I'd be worried that she might find herself in an unpleasant situation.

Does she enjoy the looks and attention she receives when she's out in public wearing a bikini? Is she recently discovering her physical charms? If she does not have a lot of friends, does she like the male attention her clothes (or lack of clothing) generates?

Within her own home, it may be acceptable to wear whatever she pleases. But there are dangers inherent in wearing bikinis in other settings. I'm please to hear that she's not sharing photographs of herself on social media, but I would worry about what is being done with the photos she and Maria take of each other. Their intentions may be innocent but that may differ from people who view those pictures.

Certain clothes are simply more comfortable than others. If her preference is for bikinis, would she consent to wear them as undergarments?

When she was younger, did your daughter have sensory issues? Did she hate the feel of a tag at the back of her neck, dislike switching to lighter or heavier clothes, prefer her arms bare or covered? While some kids grow out of sensory sensitivities as their system matures, some sensitivities may linger. Perhaps she prefers bikinis because she dislikes the feel of clothes on her skin. If that's the case, she may need to experiment with different textures and weights of clothing until she finds things that are less irritating.

I think it would be a rare employer who would approve of his employee wearing just a bikini to work. This garb might also be an issue in university classes.

People on the autism spectrum tend to get into patterns then be resistant to change those habits. If your daughter becomes accustomed to wearing nothing but a bikini, then seeks a job, she will likely run into problems. I doubt a boss would hire a person who shows up to the interview wearing a bikini. Would your daughter listen to someone saying, "The rule is...." then explaining when/where she can be clad only in her preferred bikini?

I agree with you and your husband that while her interest in fashion is fine, her clothing choice can lead to problems. Is there a way that you can channel her interest into something that might lead to a career? Temple Grandin has a nice (short) book on this called Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome . You can take a look at it here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Developing-Talents-Individuals-Asperger-High-functioning.  

Best wishes,

Autism

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Dr. Sharon A. Mitchell

Expertise

Sharon can help with parenting and educational concerns. She has worked in teaching, special education, counseling and consulting for over thirty years and gives workshops to educators and parents on working with kids with autism spectrum disorders. Sharon speaks from both the education and parent points of view, having an adult son with Asperger's.

Experience

Sharon has spent decades as a special education consultant with a school district and autism consult for the province's Department of Education, giving workshops and individual consults. Currently she works as regional autism consultant for a health district in between teaching university classes. She is an Amazon bestselling author or a series of novels, each depicting a child who has an autism spectrum disorder. Sharon's Master's thesis looked at the long-term outlook for persons with high functioning autism and Asperger's. Her Doctorate focused on strategies to help those with autism spectrum disorders.

Organizations
Website at http://www.drsharonmitchell.org and sits on Autism Today's Panel of Experts (www.autismtoday.com)

Publications
Author of "Autism Goes to School" - a novel about autism that that became an Amazon bestseller. Get this Amazon bestseller free at http://www.drsharonmitchell.org. In the next book, Autism Runs Away, Ethan is only in grade one and already has been kicked out of one school due to his tantrums and pattern of running away when in a panic. Now in a new school his mom remains glued to her phone, waiting for the call to tell her that they don’t know what to do with a child who has autism. Sara is about to learn if this new school is up to the challenge. (https://www.amazon.ca/Autism-Runs-Away-Book-School-ebook/dp/B01FCYQ7DC). Autism Belongs is the 3rd book. Manny's life has shrank to the confines of their house. His parents are desperate not to rock his world because the aggression has gotten to much worse. Where will this lead? Is there a chance that Manny could actually belong out in the world? You bet! Get a free sample at https://www.amazon.com/Autism-Belongs-School-Daze-Book-ebook/dp/B0184ZQMI6. Book four, Autism Talks and Talks, is about a 12 year old girl who has Asperger's. She's bright, inquisitive, highly verbal, but lacks social skills. Try a free sample at https://www.amazon.ca/Autism-Talks-Book-School-Daze-ebook/dp/B01IIUZH3S Book five, Autism Grows Up features Suzie, a bright, twenty-one year old whose life collapsed after she finished high school. Now, she lives in her mother's basement, spending nights on her computer, afraid to broach the world outside their door. Autism Grows Up is found at https://www.amazon.com/Autism-Grows-School-Daze-Book-ebook/dp/B01JB8QW3U. Prefer a boxed set? Get the first 3 books bundled together at https://www.amazon.com/Autism-Box-Set-School-Books-ebook/dp/B01KBEHJ08. Co-author of Amazon.com bestseller, The Official Autism 101 Manual (http://autism101manual.com/).

Education/Credentials
B.A. in Psychology, B.Ed. in Special Education, M.A. in Educational Leadership PhD. in Psychology Management, specializing in autism.

Awards and Honors
B.R.A.G. Medallion for the novel Autism Goes to School - Book 1 in the School Daze Series. (http://www.bragmedallion.com/medallion-honorees/2013/school-daze-autism-goes-to-school). Like Autism Goes to School, the third book in the series, Autism Belongs, also ranked #1 on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Autism-Belongs-School-Daze-Book-ebook/dp/B0184ZQMI6). Manny is not like other children. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t leave the house. His parents desperately try to arrange their world so that Manny does not get upset. Because, when he does, well, the aggression was getting worse. At ten, Manny was becoming difficult to handle.

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