Alexander dressing: a Houdini act

Alexander, although only three, is aiming for complete independence, and being able to dress yourself is an important part of independence.

He doesn’t yet assemble his own clothes, but perhaps it hasn’t yet occurred to him that that’s a necessary step–as indeed, is selecting and buying clothes of the right size and then washing them regularly. All that’s to come.

I present him with a pair of pants, trousers, a tee-shirt, and shoes. After stripping off his sleeping suit he starts with his pants. He sits on the floor, which is wise: he doesn’t attempt the process standing up. He’s hazy on the idea of back and front, but with his pants it doesn’t much matter. Sometimes he puts both legs in the one hole, but today he does well. He gets one leg down each hole and then stands and pulls up his pants. They are often badly twisted but not today.

Next it’s the tee–shirt. He has been taught at school to start by thrusting his arms into the sleeves, something that usually demands a second party. But today he starts with simply trying to put in one arm. Then he pulls it onto his head with one arm not in a sleeve. He gets into a terrible tangle, making me laugh as he tries like Houdini to escape. He either doesn’t hear me laugh or is not bothered. With my help he uses the school method and soon has his tee-shirt on. This is going well.

To put on his trousers he sits down, and again he manages to get his legs into the right holes.  One foot gets stuck in his trousers, but once he’s pushed it through he stands up and pulls on his trousers.

He already has socks on, so only his slippers remain. He has learnt to put on his shoes at school and often comes out proudly showing his prowess. Unfortunately he has yet to grasp the idea of different shoes for different feet, and as chance ruthlessly dictates he comes out half the time with his shoes on the wrong feet. Slippers are more forgiving, but they are still intended for different feet. I help him get the right one for the right foot, and quickly he has them on.

He stands up proudly displaying his achievement, and I clap. At the same time I think of my 88-year-old, who at the other end of life has lost the ability to dress herself.

After dressing


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