THAT dress and Autism Perception

There is a dress that seems to have taken over the internet.

One person sees the dress and says with certainty “It’s blue and black.”

Another person looking at exactly the same dress at the same time says ‘It’s white and gold.”

People cannot figure it out.

Can their perceptions of colour be THAT different?

Have they learnt colour language differently?


When one of my staff returned from their break talking about THAT dress it made me think – ‘What a great way to explain autism and perception.’


The child with autism is continually living in a reality where they see ‘Gold and White’, but everyone around them sees ‘Black and Blue’.


People are having big conversations trying to figure out THAT dress. The child with autism might not know they are seeing differently. They might not be able to communicate how they see and feel.


The school lunch hall


White and Gold


Most children will walk into the lunch hall without thinking about it too much. They go and get their school dinner or packed lunch. They sit down. They eat. They are hungry and welcome this social time.


But the child with autism may see the school canine differently. Let’s think about what their ‘blue black’ perceptions could be like.


  • Imagine if the food smells were sickening. Think about your worst, worst smell and intensify it by a zillion.


  • Imagine if you felt pure terror at the idea of having to eat unfamiliar foods. Think about your worst food whizzed to a lumpy consistency (either too hot or too cold).


  • Imagine strobe lighting, which flickers nightmare style and makes your eyes and head ache.


  • Imagine your worst sound – nails down a black board, a hundred babies crying. Turn the volume up so that it vibrates inside your head and know that it is going to be constant.


  • Imagine knowing that everyone around you will be talking and talking. They’ll be talking at you and expecting answers when you just want to bury your head to get away from all the other sensory overloads. But you know that is not ‘socially appropriate’.



Blue and Black


The other thing about THAT dress is that people can return to it and see the other view. Maybe they had thought they perceived colour differently. It is confusing to return and see the other perspective. The ‘White and Gold’ is now ‘Black and Blue’.


Another day the school lunch hall may seem okay to the child with autism.

No one can reason why.

The child recalls the ‘white and gold’ day, but as it is ‘blue and black’ they can cope.


Why THAT dress makes me hopeful


THAT dress has got people talking about perception.

THAT dress got people seeing that things could look completely different to different people at different times.

THAT dress showed them that there is not always a right or wrong answer, that perception is about personal experience.


Maybe THAT dress would be a good way to explain the sensory overload and the behaviours that the casual passer by sometimes sees and judges. It’s not that the child, who is having a meltdown, has bad behaviour. They are seeing and sensing differently which is causing anxiety and real pain.


THAT dress made me hopeful because stopping to think about perception could lead to more empathy and understanding for people with autism.


Christmas sweets help children with autism learn by @AdeleDevine

The more activities we can find to fill a child’s day the more opportunities we give them to learn. Children with autism benefit from structure and we should start building independence and communication skills early. Cooking  is a great way to get started.

Build a cooking session into the day. It’s something ALL children can get involved with. Rather than struggle to get things done in the kitchen involve them.

Cooking can be very visual, sensory and has a satisfying outcome. Whilst they are cooking they are learning so many important life skills.


1st     Demonstrate (as shown above).

2nd   Provide enough equipment for every child. At first you will divide ingredients. In time they will build communication and social skills by sharing.

3rd    Let the cooking commence.

4th    The big clean up.


There are a zillion recipes to find on the internet. Sometimes I have a few random ingredients and put them into google to find a new recipe.

Here are some no cook highly motivating Christmas sweetie recipes to get started.


Nutella Truffles (Makes 7-9)


When making these with my class I used half these ingredients for each child and those that resisted eating the mixture ended up with five.


  • Nutella – 4 tbsp
  • Butter -1 tsp
  • Choco Chip Biscuits – 6
  • Cornflakes – 3 tbsp
  • Coco powder – for dusting and rolling


Add 4 tbs of Nutella.

Add 1tsp of Butter.

Crumble in 6 Choco Chip biscuits (I used Maryland). These are hard and 6 take a long time to crumble by hand. You could use a grinder or share the work.

Crumble in 3tbs of Cornflakes.

Mix together.

Form small balls then roll in Coco powder. We put ours in sweet cake cases.

Pop in the fridge for two hours (if you can resist). They can also be be eaten straight away.


Peppermint Creams (without eggs)


I would half these quantities for individual class recipes.

I also made up a peppermint and green food colour mixture and they each added a 1/2 tsp of this to keep it simple.

  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 4 teaspoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon green food colouring (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint essence
  • extra 1/3 cup icing sugar, for dusting (do not mix it with the rest)

Mix icing sugar, milk, food colouring (if using) and essence until they stick together.

Add more milk if the mixture is too powdery. Add more sugar if it’s too moist.

Dust the kitchen counter and rolling pin with icing sugar.

Form little balls and squash gently with a fork.

Set peppermint creams on wax paper to dry overnight. The following morning, turn them over to dry the underside.

You can then dip half in melted chocolate if you want to make them really special.


My Top Ten SEN cooking tips.

1) Make sure you have everything ready before you start.

2) Stay cool and calm if they get a bit sensory with the ingredients.

3) Be overly enthusiastic – they will pick up on your mood.

4) Use a visual recipe and show them a picture of what you are going to make.

5) Let them try to do things that are not dangerous independently.

6) Build a bank of recipes that work well – they will enjoy choosing a recipe.

7) Remember they will enjoy watching ingredients pour so do it slowly from above.

8) Create a personal recipe scrapbook with photo’s of your little chef.

9) Praise the end results.

10) Be prepared for a bit of mess – clothes and surfaces wash.

Tell me, I’ll forget
Show me, I’ll remember
Involve me, I’ll understand.

(Chinese proverb)

SEN Assist

Colour Coding For Learners with Autism: A Resource Book for Creating Meaning Through Colour at Home and School.

Dear teacher – See Christmas through the eyes of a child with autism by @AdeleDevine.

Teachers stay in school late to make the hall look like this, but not ALL children will like it.


School decorations trigger memories and make my heart beat faster. My mouth is dry and my palms are suddenly sweaty. I LOVE Christmas. I LOVE our home decorations, but I don’t like waiting . I cope with school by knowing a lot of the routines. I mentally prepare and plan my day, but now none of my strategies or safety supports are going to work. When the school hall changes I know that we are at the start of that unpredictable run up to Christmas. Other children’s faces light up with joy, but I feel alone and anxious.

Good Morning

There won’t be time today. We are decorating our class tree. We are supposed to be happy. It’s going to be fun. The teacher doesn’t talk through our scedule because “we don’t need to”. We are in mad Chrismas mode.


(Which is still up on our schedule) is suddenly ‘play rehearsal’. We stand about and listen to teachers talking and then moving us about. There is the awful singing and kids ‘playing’ random instruments. Why?

Being dressed up and on stage  makes me feel anxious.

I would rather stay in class and hide.

Staff absences

Our teaching assistant is off sick with ‘Flu’ and has not been replaced so I have to wade through this minefield without my all smiling, all knowing guide…

My eyes hurt, my head aches, but I’m not ill enough to stay at home – ‘attendance records’, the ‘importance of routine’ and all that…


We are adding glitter to snowflakes. I usually like science. Mrs White has been replaced by Mrs ‘?’, who seems to find fun in getting glitter everywhere… The mix it up kids take advantage and could do ANYTHING, any minute… she starts to shout. Shouting is my worst thing. Why is she punishing me? Injustice and pain!


We are making Christmas lists, but the things I SO want are NOT in their catalogues. I need to go on the computer to make my list, but get an instant “No.” I try to get to the computer anyway because my list needs to be right. Now the teacher is really cross and gives me a sad face to hold. I feel really, really sad and do nothing while the other children make their lists. “You won’t get presents if you don’t make a list” – that throw away comment from the parent helper feels like a knife stabbing my heart.

Santa watching

“Santa is watching” they say and I know I’m not managing Santa’s “good”, but I’m trying so hard with all the noise, the change, the anxiety and the sensory overload.

Then there is that final straw – The Christmas Fayre (in front of everyone).

Time to see Santa. I wait and I manage the noise, the smells and those flickering lights… I take the gift. I say “thank you” as rehearsed. I endure the flash of the camera, shading my eyes with my flat present. And that’s when I realise – Santa has given me a picture book! After all that!

I feel so mad. All those strategies they’ve taught me about counting, deep breathes and asking for time out don’t help me. My foot flies up out of nowhere and before I know what is happening I’ve kicked him. I’ve kicked him right in the knee and he’s hurt. I can’t look at him. I want to sink into the ground and disappear. I’ve kicked Santa! I feel bad – totally and utterly bad all through. And suddenly I’m hitting out at everyone because I’m angry with myself and I want them to disappear too.


I know that my parents are ‘disappointed’, but they say nothing. They let me be – not because they are soft or think kicking Santa is okay, but because they know me.

They know I need some time to process, to think, to work the whole thing out and I already feel really, really sorry…

It wasn’t even Santa that made me mad, it was the muddle, the confusion, the list and all that talk.

Still on the good list

I might not manage ‘good’, see things or react as you expect me to, but I do try harder that anyone can know.

Christmas changes are hard to handle.

Listen to me, watch me and try to understand.

Give me time, give me unconditional love, get to know me as an individual and set me up to succeed because with your support I CAN!


NOTE: This is based on the experiences of the many children with autism I have taught. It will not be the experience of ALL children with autism, but is written to highlight some issues, which can cause anxiety and trigger challenges.


My Top Ten Tips for Teachers

1) Have a social story™ explaining that it will all go back to normal after the holiday.

2) Have a visual calendar counting down the days to the end of term and showing changes to the usual schedule.

3) Have an area that remains normal so a child can escape Christmas. Show them. Say you go there when Christmas gets too much.

4) Keep as much routine in place as possible. Let them know they can tell a teacher if they feel worried or overloaded.

5) Avoid leaving tempting treats on display and mystery gifts wrapped up until the end of term. Waiting is hard.

6) Unfamiliar noises, textures, smells, taste, touch and lighting may be disturbing. The usual things can become upsetting too.

7) If they don’t want to see Santa let them opt out – it’s meant to be fun. Make some allowances, reduce some demands. Choose your battles.

8) Be aware of sensory issues when dishing out parts that need costumes. Dressing in different clothes can cause real discomfort and anxiety.

9) Communicate with home and be aware of triggers. Let parents know they can email you if something is causing anxiety.

10) Show you understand that it is hard – give praise, stickers or additional reward time. Be proud of them.


SEN Assist

Colour Coding For Learners with Autism: A Resource Book for Creating Meaning Through Colour at Home and School.