The Girl Who Went Naked For A Month: A True Sensory Disorder Tale

This article is more than 9 years old.

Hillary Frank is a busy mom who, in her spare time, blogs about life with an infant and interviews other moms (and dads) about the "surprising struggles of early parenthood." A while back Frank, a longtime radio producer based in Montclair, NJ, got this pitch from another mother, Joyce Slaton, who wanted to tell her story:

"Joyce just basically told me that she had a toddler who went naked for an entire month and during that time they never left the house," Frank writes on her blog, The Longest Shortest Time. "I had to know more. Wouldn't you?"

That's how "The Emperor's New Onesie" — the video — was born; a multimedia collaboration between Frank and Rekha Murthy, a former radio producer now at PRX who received a small grant from the Knight Foundation to develop an existing public radio piece into a video.

It's the poignant and somewhat disturbing tale of Violet, a 15-month old who obliterates her clothes-loving mother's fantasy of  a "fancy vintage baby" adorned in butter-yellow blouses, cute tops embroidered with puppies and striped jumpers with matching frilly panties. Instead, Violet suffers from a sensory processing disorder, which compels her to pluck and tear at all those pretty, hand-sewn blouses and skirts in agony "like she was being electrocuted," according to her mother. Ultimately, Violet refuses clothes altogether — for a month.

The piece, which you should watch immediately, is beautifully illustrated with paper-doll cut-outs by Jen Corace and clever animation by Joe Posner (notably, a sequence with brightly-wrapped candies raining from the sky). Murthy, writing today on the Knight Foundation blog, says she was drawn to "Onesie" because it resonated with with her personally:

"By the time I found The Longest Shortest Time, I was expecting my first child. I had been dodging most of the annoying mommy media out there, full of whitewashed, rigid, and oversimplified characterizations of what’s an incredibly complex experience. LST felt like an antidote." She adds this: "My baby Asha is 6 months old now, and when she protests while I dress her I immediately think of Violet. My next thought is that Violet's story has fanned my new-parent paranoia, yet I still feel the need to comfort myself by thinking that if, in the unlikely event that it is a sensory disorder, thanks to the power of storytelling I'd recognize it and know what to do."

From "The Emperor's New Onesie" by Hillary Frank
From "The Emperor's New Onesie" by Hillary Frank

The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation defines the condition as one in which "sensory signals don't get organized into appropriate responses." A 2009 study by the Sensory Processing Disorder Scientific Work Group suggests that "1 in every 6 children experiences sensory symptoms that may be significant enough to affect aspects of everyday life functions."

Readers, are any of you dealing with this? What works? What doesn't? Please let us know.

This program aired on October 19, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 




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