Autism and Aspergers
If this is your first visit, check out the community guide. You will have to Join us or Sign in before you can post.

OCD and autism - how to deal with ripping of clothing?

Amber_76Amber_76 Member Posts: 6
edited October 2016 in Autism and Aspergers
Hello! My name is Amber, I work work with individuals with Autism in their homes (group homes) I have been having difficulty with one individual who is an Adult male that has OCD tendencies and is also on the spectrum. My question is what are some ways to deal with ripping of clothing. 


  • Jean_OTJean_OT Member Posts: 528 Pioneering

    Hi Amber

    There is some info about challenging behaviour on the Scope website:

    Also, I wonder if the Challenging Behaviour Foundation might be able to advise you :

    Best Wishes


    Jean Merrilees BSc MRCOT

    You can read more of my posts at:

  • Yiman60Yiman60 Member Posts: 95 Connected
    edited October 2016
    Amber_76 said:
    Hello! My name is Amber, I work work with individuals with Autism in their homes (group homes) I have been having difficulty with one individual who is an Adult male that has OCD tendencies and is also on the spectrum. My question is what are some ways to deal with ripping of clothing. 
    I presume he has access to the likes of Autism Iniative, try their Forum see if anyone has any suggestions.
    One thought might be the clothes are uncomfortable on his skin. Things like rough material, labels , seams in clothing can all be a painful experience to someone on the Spectrum. Ask him, does your clothes make you feel uncomfortable, are you in pain. Work from there.

  • Amber_76Amber_76 Member Posts: 6
    Thank you for your reply
  • Yiman60Yiman60 Member Posts: 95 Connected
    No problem. 
     It's the over and under sensitive to taste, touch , hearing, smell, any of the senses.
    It could be a case of using non allergic washing liquids and conditioners. Also the smell of some of these detergents are overpowering to us. Can you imagine what's it like to an Autistic Person. 
    Its the same as a wet coat, or sweaty trainers, these can be overpowering to a person on the Spectrum.

    The clothes could feel too heavy . Just ask , it's amazing what you find out.

    Have you read The Reason I Jump, it's facinating and an easy to understand insight into the Autism Spectrum world.
  • Amber_76Amber_76 Member Posts: 6
    I guess not all my reply was captured lol. The gentleman is nonverbal and has OCD. I am not totally sure if it's sensitivity to the feel but will change design and fabric to see if this is the cause as well as dwtergen. It does seem ritualistic as he will only rip his clothes in his room nowhere else and rips as soon as he gets dressed in the morning. 
  • Yiman60Yiman60 Member Posts: 95 Connected

    It could be quite complicated . Someone could use this as Stimming , it's just like hand flapping, twiddling a pen, jumping , may be that's why he does this.
    If this has become an obsession then it's gently trying to stop the obsession.  
    If it is Stimming then that's what often happens , they do this in private.

    Its going to be a case of trying different solutions  till you find the answers.
  • Amber_76Amber_76 Member Posts: 6
    Thank you so much for your advice!!
  • Yiman60Yiman60 Member Posts: 95 Connected
    Amber_76 said:
    Thank you so much for your advice!!
    It's is a very complicated subject. If you have some way to communicate , e.g. Writing, sign language work with the positives .
    You sound like a wonderful kind caring person wanting to help your clients. That's lovely to hear and Thank You xx
  • Amber_76Amber_76 Member Posts: 6
    He has a PEC book (picture exchange communication system) but is very limited with it. He only communicates some activities and food to us. He is not willing to go beyond that. He's quite complex and I feel so bad for him as he has very little funding and it's running out because we've purchased so many new clothing for him. 
  • Yiman60Yiman60 Member Posts: 95 Connected
    Amber_76 said:
    He has a PEC book (picture exchange communication system) but is very limited with it. He only communicates some activities and food to us. He is not willing to go beyond that. He's quite complex and I feel so bad for him as he has very little funding and it's running out because we've purchased so many new clothing for him. 
    Oh bless I see what you mean. Part of the issues of Autism is Prediction, what happens next. 
    Could he be bored ? How old is he ? Have you anything like this ?

    I found masses of information from this Charity. I live in Scotland.

    Try asking about the clothing first. Work from there. 

  • Amber_76Amber_76 Member Posts: 6
    He is 28 years. We have lots of activities for him but he's uninterested he will do a lot of humming and fist or head banging and will try to make you put them away. He seems to only enjoy food and  tv as he asks for them constantly but we can't have him in front of the tv sleeping his life away and eating till he explodes lol. He does like to walk/hike but half the time he wants to cut it short lol  I live in Northern Ontario, I will take a look at the site you gave me!  Again thank you so much for your help
  • Yiman60Yiman60 Member Posts: 95 Connected
    edited October 2016

    This may explain a number of the issues.

    This explains some of the self harming issues and causes.

    I know it's difficult but one tip I was given, think of the positive achievements , even if it's only one , not the negative . Choose your battles carefully.

    Thats fantastic you get him out for short walks ,. Glad we can help from so far away .
  • Yiman60Yiman60 Member Posts: 95 Connected
    edited October 2016

    Have you tried making your own book with photos of him doing things himself himself and adding to it. May be photos of people and things he likes . issues Dr gould.pdf

    Eating can cause serious issues to folk on the Spectrum varying from very picky to not being able to stop, they always feel hungry.

    I am trying to get a diagnosis of PDA for my boys. Basically it's extreme Demand Avoidance . Thinking about what you have said so far , you will have to investigate the medical history further is there a possibility he has PDA. It's the extreme lengths they go to to avoid situations. Often children will remove their underwear , or deliberately e.g. Hide car keys to avoid Social Situations.
    There is a questionnaire on the website and lots of information . Some can be subtle others blatant extreme refusal.

    You can have PDA on its own or with Asbergers , ADHD etc. You could also have dyslexia but that will be difficult to test for.

    Its another possibility. I wish you luck in your investigations . 
  • MS1964MS1964 Member Posts: 7 Connected
    Hi.  I’ve just become the legal guardian for a SMH (severely mentally handicapped) female who also is non-verbal much like Amber’s situation.  Also OCD behaviors.

    Any further updates from Amber or others on this topic?  She also is ripping her gym shoes.  I am in the process of getting as much detail from caregivers when these events happen.

    As far as shoe ripping, I am going to first take her to podiatrist.  If nothing medical, plan on buying her a pair of shoes without laces since I learned she first removed her laces before rippping her shoes so am thinking her OCD may have kicked in when she saw her laces “weren’t perfect”.  

    Her other OCD behavior is then hiding, covering up, or throwing away the destroyed clothes/shoes. 

    Any updated thoughts from others?

  • laura_otrlaura_otr Member Posts: 1 Listener
    I am consulting on a very similar situation as MS1964.  I would love continued advice.  I haven't looked at the links yet but hope to pick up more ideas.  My individual is middle 20's as well, nonverbal.  This individual collects all the small pieces after the ripping/shredding events and then hides or throws them away as well.  It's almost like they had to finish the activity but maybe (shamefully) know they need to dispose of it.

    For my client, it seems to be light touch or string related.  I also suspect by engaging in this preoccupation somehow serves a purpose. (Stopping the activity? Or an intense desire to fix something that doesn't look right/feel right, etc).

    This individual shreds shoes, clothes, jackets, mittens, hats, shower curtains, couches, car seats, etc.  If the activity is interrupted in a 1:1 situation - then this person becomes extremely agitated and violent.  At times 3 adults introducing themselves to the environment when a new shredding routine starts has helped to stop a sock ripping routine. 

    These individual are not trying to be naughty.  I think about this a sensory event, a communication event, an obsessive event.  At this time we're working on engaging the person in activities that are highly rewarding (visually) by introducing various building toys/science activities to keep the eyes and hands engaged in something productive and potentially habit breaking.

  • MS1964MS1964 Member Posts: 7 Connected
    Hi Laura. This can be frustrating but hang in there.  You are absolutely correct that this behavior serves a purpose.  Getting the team on board to acknowledge this will be key to success. 

    Things have improved greatly for my client with the following new insights and changes.  
    1. Having staff just give the client more direct 1:1 interaction, smiles, talking to her, complimenting her helping her chose clothes ( she picks out her outfits every night for the next day).  Unfortunately, I think staff have a tendency to really ignore clients that don’t talk. It takes staff re-education about the importance of non-verbal communication (smiling, hand touching, etc).  Also, trying to find other ways to communicate- teaching the sign language for “don’t like” or “ need help”.  Just giving a  little bit of attention was a game changer for my client.  
    2.  Getting rid of all her stained clothing and have staff have her wear a “bib” when eating. Having staff explain to her that they want her to have nice, clean clothes. 
    3.  Have her participate in washing, drying, putting away her clothes. 
    4.  Make sure all clothing in her closet fits her properly and removing all items that don’t. 
    5.  Early removal of anything in the environment that becomes a fixation.
    6.   More careful 1:1 monitoring of the client by staff.  This is a must!  We noticed behaviors were occurring when she was left on her own in her bedroom or in the bathroom. 
    7.  Redirection-  create a bag and have it easily assessable for staff at all times with redirection items in it.  Maybe a favorite stuffed animal, toy, papers to shred, food, play, etc.  bring an item out and attempt to give it to the client with the words, “ Joe, I’ll fix the shirt if you give it to me.   Here, you take “this” and I’ll fix the shirt.”  Teach sign language for “ fix it” and practice this with the client. 
    8.  Playing music maybe a great redirection. Especially, if you can get staff to encourage the client to get up and dance with them.  
    9.  My client had bilateral tendinitis and needed anti inflammatory meds for 30 days and a proper fitting for correct shoes. After this, she went 60 days before she ripped her new shoes and I’m convinced that behavior was due to something between a staff person and the client that day. This behavior has greatly improved overall since addressing the foot pain issue. 
    Hope this helps. Finally,   I’m not a behaviorist but the guardian. It is key to get a behaviorist on the team who specializes with challenging behaviors like this. 
  • Chloe_ScopeChloe_Scope Scope Posts: 10,653 Disability Gamechanger
    Welcome to the community @MS1964 and thank you very much for taking the time to share this with us! How are you doing?


  • sabernzsabernz Member Posts: 2 Listener
    Hi,  I enjoyed reading the insights that everyone shared about ripping behaviour in the spectrum.  We have the same client that we support who exactly manifest the same ripping behaviours.  We can't leave any clothings in his bedroom as he will demolish it,  no beddings as well as mattress.  We imported a set of unrippable mattress, pillows and blanket which lasted for 6 years until he found weaker points and had ripped them.  We found a replacement material though in which he seems to like the texture and haven't touch it since.

    Even the lounge suites he would demolish.  We bought new lounge suites and re-upholstered it to the same material he liked and so far so good it lasted us a couple of years now and going.

    With regard to clothings and even the carpet he would still rip them up.  What we tried to minimize the behaviour is engage him to a more physical activity that he prefers that might help with the boredom.  For us, as what we observed, the behaviour seems to have an underlying cause.  We try to understand the cause at the moment and we are still learning.
  • Chloe_ScopeChloe_Scope Scope Posts: 10,653 Disability Gamechanger
    Welcome to the community @sabernz

  • MS1964MS1964 Member Posts: 7 Connected
    edited January 2020
    Update:  Things were going well but had a ripping episode recently. Client received a winter coat and proceeded to rip the zippered hood off the coat the first time seeing it. (it was reported to me, I didn't actually see this). Client always wears a winter hat, so perhaps saw no need for the hood or had never had a coat with a hood and thought therefore something was "wrong" with the coat.  My client destroyed items that are damaged in anyway (e.g. chair with a wobble). The coat was still wearable. Later that same day, after a test at the hospital, client returned to the waiting room and immediately went to the chair where the coat was and ripped it again to the point it was no longer wearable.  Client smiled as though this behavior gave some type of stress relief. Behavior only took 3 seconds!  Client did stop when told to do so and gave up the coat to staff when asked.  Staff hid the coat behind them. Client was redirected to sit down and did. Comforting words were provided, client's shoulder was rubbed and was told to take some deep breaths- which client did. During the test, the client's arm had to be restrained in order to attempt to put in an IV. Client was stuck twice and yelled out loudly both times. No IV was started because of failed attempts. Usually I am with the client for any IV starts and/or procedures but was not allowed in the room due to the nature of the test.  I believe the client's stress level was "high" because of being with strangers. Any "restraining" could also have risen a stress level since there was a history of family abuse where the client's hands were often times tied as of means of control. For my client, ripping could be a learned behavior from years ago that provides stress relief because client can't communicate needs/ feelings.   Our first team meeting with the new behaviorist is in February, so I'll update after hearing her thoughts.    
  • MS1964MS1964 Member Posts: 7 Connected
    Welcome @sabernz!  Would love to hear your story?
  • Chloe_ScopeChloe_Scope Scope Posts: 10,653 Disability Gamechanger
    Thank you for taking the time to update us, I hope the behaviourist can help! 

  • MS1964MS1964 Member Posts: 7 Connected
    Update after team meeting.  Well, first update is about that winter coat.  I was able to take it home and repair it .  Before giving it back  I showed her the  "baby" sign language for "fix", telling her I had fixed her coat.  I had her repeat the sign to me.  Here is the link to the site I use  when I need to sign.  She took the coat, hung it up and wore it four (4) more days before I read she had ripped it while out at her Day Program. Of note, was that staff reported she had noticed she had a urinary accident right before ripping her coat.  The behaviorist and team believes our client has a  life-long learned negative behavior of ripping as a means of communicating when something is not right. The behaviorist is working with her using picture communication cards.  At the team meeting, behaviorist reported the client is about 50% engaged with the use of communication cards - trying to verbally repeat back to the behaviorist the word. Behaviorist says it will take the client time to conceptualize the meaning of the word/ card/ langauge (think of Helen Keller movie).  The behaviorist has also   developed a Communication Book for the home that has behavior tracking sheets for staff to use. In addition, she will be implementing a “tool box” of calming items for the client's relaxation (proactive strategy). Hope some of these suggestions help someone.  I realize each situation is unique.  God's blessings to all caregivers who work with those less fortunate.  
  • newbornnewborn Member Posts: 699 Pioneering
    MS1964 it is uplifting to see how much care and thought goes into your work. It was, though, distressing that the i.v. people were so uninformed and  bullying.  Excluding familiar people , forcible restraint, and even striking their patient.  It is they who should be struck.....struck off being permitted to practice.
  • MS1964MS1964 Member Posts: 7 Connected
    Just to clarify.....staff did not strike the client.....they "stuck" her twice......trying to get the IV inserted.   I'm just delighted that in 2020, we finally are at a place where key members of the team are moving forward with changes based on the assumption the ripping behaviors occur due to an inability to communicate needs and feelings.  
  • Chloe_ScopeChloe_Scope Scope Posts: 10,653 Disability Gamechanger
    Thank you so much for taking the time to update us @MS1964! I'm sure others will find this interesting and a valuable insight! 

  • sabernzsabernz Member Posts: 2 Listener
    MS1964 said:
    Welcome @sabernz!  Would love to hear your story?
    Hi.  Tks for the warm welcome.  I enjoy working with the clients that we support as there is never a dull moment.  It always help me think, re-think for strategies that could help us do better.  It also makes a difference to find this support group to reach out and learn some more.

    With our client,  we have enrolled him in a regular gym session after some free trials.  We focused on what he likes and at this stage the treadmill.  So far, he could walk for a couple of hours with no issues.  With the regular exercise seems to minimize his destructive behavior.  We still encounter minor ones but it comes down to whoever is looking after him.  He gets frustrated when his needs aren't met and would try to rip his clothing's for attention.
  • HabibaHabiba Member Posts: 1 Listener
    Hello beautiful people,
    Both my brother and me are on the spectrum.
    He has a “strong disable autistim” (Léo Kanner type diagnosed when he was 1,5 years old), is totally non-verbal but knows how to use PECs and seems to always be understood even without that, well, to people who want to actually understand him. He is 27.

    Me, I was very lately diagnosed, last year, after struggling with psychiatric issues, multiple diagnosis and chemical treatments that had very bad effects on me. I am 30, and have been diagnosed with Asperger HIQ.

    We live in France, my brother lives in a specialised institution for adults on the spectrum, he goes one week-end out of two to my parents.
    I live with my husband.

    Concerning the problem of ripping clothes, we really need help because my brother destroys a lot his clothes. It has been now for years, I can’t remember when was the first time, but he already was in institution, not living home, and as a young adult. The past years, each time he is back home, my parents give to the institution brand new clothes, he rippes apparently all of them, especially the underwear’s and in the end all of them, only wearing them (but I think at home and in the institution he can’t have access to his clothes, maybe because he used to torn them too... don’t know).

    I want to find and help giving solutions because my parents are spending a lot of money each week to renew his clothes, and to me it is for my brother a sign of suffering, I hate leaving him like this.

    it is possible and a good hypothesis to link the periods of ripping clothes with his masturbating rituals, as I am his sister, my parents don’t tell me much about that... and the institution doesn’t give us any details about that, or not to me... the told me that there are some periods where he doesn’t touch any clothes and don’t torn them... they don’t make any proposition or hypothesis about the difference between a period with tiring and a period without...

    to me it is linked to a special context, sensorial first (I am in this case and will explain my solutions for me), and linked with the people he is with...
    I just can’t forget his strange behaviour once we’ve took him with my husband back to the institution after a ride to the beach, he was very strange and making weird thing with his jeans fly when next to the man who went to open us the gate... I precise that he is non verbal and I just can’t tell everyone that I have a bad feeling about a man working with this folks, just because I saw my brother acting weirdly...

    As I am autistic too, I use my own experience with clothes.
    for years I was feeling very bad sensations in my body, especially on my skin. I’ve tried many things, and when I decided to live my own way and wear only clothes I like (I used to force myself wearing clothes my mother and sister bought me because I hate buying clothes, and since I am a teenager prefer only wearing clothes I made myself, but always was told they are not what I have to wear to be accepted by the society...

    so when I decided not to care anymore, I bought 3 models (with multiple exemplifies) of tops, of trousers in the perfect fabric I can only wear and, my life changed when I decided to stop wearing underwears...
    I have been experiencing No Bra for now 8 years and it was very helpful, even if people told me it was dangerous for my breast.
    so some months ago I tried and definitely apply wearing no underwear’s (panties, I don’t know if this is the good word in English, for the record, English isn’t my mother language). I felt more freedom and want annoyed by something I couldn’t guess was so invasive to me and my anxiety...

    so this is my contribution, I need help to understand how to help my brother. I am sure that if he could make sport such like me (I do 3 hours a day as a minimum, I have also ADHD, which my brother doesn’t seem to have, but I think we don’t know many things about him... he takes so much medicines...)

    I read your posts and loved the solutions you proposed but need a light up for my brother situation if possible. 

    Thank you and I feel very happy to see people so dedicated to their clients ! Since I have been diagnosed with autism everybody, even my own parents and sisters turned their back to me, telling that I just want to draw attention or just deny or tune out when I talk about it...
  • MS1964MS1964 Member Posts: 7 Connected
    [email protected] and thanks for sharing your stories. Your brother is lucky to have you and your parents. Are you his guardian or your parents?  Someone else? The references to "you" below really means whoever  is the guardian. Does your brother have a Care Team (psychiatrist, psychologist, behavioral therapist, case manager, etc.)?  How often does the Team meet?  Below are my thoughts based on my experience in significantly reducing ripping behaviors with my client.  

    When I began working with my autistic, non-verbal client in 2019 ( I am the court-appointed agent for guardian),  her residential staff, day program staff, and the behaviorist told me  "She's always ripped.  She just needs more medication." Nobody wanted to "work the puzzle" to figure out the root cause of the problem. Her entire life, she was just "medicated" to deal with her ripping, property destruction, and aggression (at times).  Today, there has been a drastic reduction in all three areas.  Below is the approach I used.  I can't say it will work for your brother (or anyone), but I believe the principle of gathering and analyzing data to analyze is important to help understand and possibly reduce this behavior.  

    First - Report Suspected Abuse. 
    If  you suspect any adult abuse (even if it is just a feeling), I would encourage you to report it. 

    Second - Befriend the care-taking staff at the Home.  Bring cookies, write a note, send flowers every now/ then.  Get to know the staff as individuals by asking them about their lives. Build trusting relationships so staff feels comfortable sharing their insights with you "off the record" at times.  I gained lots of  information about what was really happening just by spending time talking with the staff. 

    Third -Work the your Care Team.
      Tell the team you would like to see if we can work together to find the root cause of the ripping and that first includes collecting key pieces of data to analyze: 
    • Date/ Time/ Location/ name of staff person who witnessed ripping
    • What was your brother doing right before ripping?
    • Describe the ripping:  what was ripped, how long did he rip the item?  Was he smiling?
    • What interventions did staff try to do? (redirect him? distract him? How?  speak to him, etc.)
    • How did he respond to the intervention?  Did he stop ripping?  Grunt, grimace. smile, show aggression, etc.?
    • Staff to save the ripped item for you to see/or take a picture of the item and send it to you & the Care Team.  This is important so you can look at the item to see if it you see a pattern in the clothing.  Do all items have tags inside of them?  The same color?  Same fabric?  All have buttons? All requiring pulling over the head? Was the item dirty? Have an odor? 
    I strongly suggest you ask for access to where staff is required to document everything that is happening each shift.  For me, this was  getting security access to their online reporting system.  Each day, I review the previous day's documentation including staff notes, if her medications that were given as ordered, vital signs, etc.  If you can't get online access, ask the home to email it to you.

    Third - Create a "Behavior Log"  Staff Report Template.  The next question will be how to gather the data listed above. Again, start working with your Care Team to find out where information about each ripping episode is now recorded.  Look at their report and if  it does not contain the details above, ask if their report can be changed to include items. Ask if this report is available online for you to see as well. The staff will need to be told by their managers they now "must" complete this in this form each time there is a ripping behavior and you need to be notified via email. 

    Fourth - Work the Puzzle.  Now comes the Sherlock Holmes part.  Work with the Care Team to start analyzing each piece of data listed above for patterns.  How many times is the ripping happening in the morning, afternoon, evening shifts?  How many times does he rip int he bedroom vs. the bathroom, etc.?  How many times does he rip when he is alone vs. with someone?  How many ripped items were dirty?  Had buttons? etc.   

    Fifth-Experiment with Solutions.  Work with your Care Team and ask them to come up with creative ways to address what the team thinks may be a "triggers" for the behavior.  Be specific and be sure to identify who/ what/ where/ when about the solution.  For example, 
    for my client, the patterns showed:  most ripping was happening at the Day Program or around 4pm after she got home from the Day Program.  There was a behavior pattern when a new staff person started giving her care.  By looking at the staff narratives, we also determined, the 3pm-11pm shift was documenting she "smelled" sometimes after returning from the Day Program and had feces in her pants.  We addressed that issue by working with the Day Program Director who increased her daily trips to the bathroom. We also thought she may be hungry because she was eating her lunch at 11 am but not getting her dinner until 5pm (6 hrs later).  We started giving her a small snack when she got home after the Day Program.  We removed all tags in the clothing and made it a point to tell staff she was NOT to wear any dirty clothing.  You get the idea, I hope. 

    Note on working with your Care Team.  The guardian has power and should not hesitate to seek new Care Team member if it is determined someone is not working as a team member to address this problem. I had to get a new Behaviorist because the old one was not engaged at our meetings, did not update her reports with new information, did not work with my client 1:1 and consistently said just to medicate her more.  She was a lovely woman, but in my opinion did not have the experience or desire to help my client.  She ended up changing  career-path directions from working with mentally disabled adults and is now working with children in the public school system. 

    It's a complex problem but breaking the "puzzle" down into objective, data pieces, and working with a team makes the problem solving much easier.  I hope this helps and please keep us posted.  

  • fairybellsxofairybellsxo Member Posts: 44 Courageous
    Hello :) 

    I have autism and have severe issues around OCD in terms of my clothing and I am very much a perfectionist when it comes to my hair/makeup and it can really upset me at times.

    I think I know what could solve this issue :) I think it's to do with the fact that they are ' new ' clothes I hate buying new clothes as I get used to how I look and feel in certain things, so I tend to avoid buying new things as I don't like ' change ' .

    Why not ask him what his favorite t-shirt and jeans are :) and then just buy him a few of each thing, who cares if they're not 'different designs/styles' they're clean and he will be much happier that way :) 

    Just something to consider!

    All the best.
Sign in or join us to comment.