Lauren Thierry knows firsthand how difficult it can be for autistic children to dress themselves.
Her teenage son, Liam, was diagnosed at the age of 2 with an autism spectrum disorder.
“Liam spent 12 years of his life learning how to get dressed,” said Thierry, a former CNN anchor. “Autism can affect you cognitively, but also your fine motor skills and dexterity, which is the case with my son.”
After years spent teaching her son how to work with tags and buttons, Thierry decided to forgo clothing with those details. Then frustrated by the lack of options beyond plain tees and sweatpants, she decided to do something about it.
Independence Day is a clothing line developed for adolescents with autism, as well as other special needs like cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.
“The best thing I can do for my child and everyone else’s child is to give them the tools — in my case the clothes — so they can dress themselves and have a fair degree of independence,” Thierry said.
The clothing line features preppy tops, cargo pants, leggings and dresses a la Calvin Klein and Lilly Pulitzer that do not use any sensory triggers, such as tags, zippers or buttons.
There’s no difference between the front and back of the items and the fit for every piece of clothing is reversible to hide stains, as well.
“It had to be foolproof,” said Thierry, who worked with Dalila Anderson to design the clothing, manufactured the line in Queens and tested it at New York Child Learning Institute, a school for autistic children in College Point, Queens.
“No matter how you put it on it’s going to be right,” she said.
Each piece also comes with a hidden, chargeable GPS device, as people with autism are at risk of wandering, as the tragic case of Avonte Oquendo, an autistic teen who went missing in Queens in October 2013 and was found dead three months later, spotlights.
Since its soft launch nine months ago online at Independencedayclothing.com with 600 garments, Independence Day is on track to sell out. Prices range from $34 for tops to $59.50 for cargo pants to $85 for dresses. Thierry is adding more items, including a short-sleeved dress, shorts and a Fishermans sweater, this May, and plans to develop underwear and bathing suits. The line will also expand its sizes, which currently include S, M and L, to XS, XL and XXL, as well as toddler fits.
With April being National Autism Awareness Month, the line is running a promotion, offering 15% off site wide from April 1-30.
As far as autism awareness goes, Thierry has her own piece of advice: “I think there’s still a lot of people out there who see kids with behavior issues which they think is a result of bad parenting,” she said. “If you see someone acting out, give the mom and kid the benefit of the doubt. They might just be on the autism spectrum. We’re out there doing our best.”