Changing The Perception Of People With Special Needs Through Makeover!


Personal presentation – a vital key to social inclusion for people with Disabilities

As the saying goes “You can’t judge a book by its cover” but the reality is, we all do. We make judgements when meeting some on based on our first impressions.

Personal presentation means how to dress for you body shape, or how to bring balance to your shape and what work best for you so you create a positive first impression. The information applies for all people including the ones with special needs regardless of your size, shape, ability or disability.

In the past, many people with Down syndrome and other disabilities have been conditioned to have low expectations of themselves especially in this area of personal presentation and social inclusion.

People with disabilities were often institutionalized or hidden in the family home, only interacting with family members and not included in social situations. As a result of this, it wasn’t considered a priority or important on how people with disabilities presented themselves. Little care was taken to a person’s individual style or personal presentation.

They are usually dressed in whatever is easy to get on, or get off to go to the bathroom. But research shows that first impressions are powerful and permanent. and this indifferent attitude towards personal presentation may contribute in negative perceptions of people with Down syndrome and other special needs.

“The halo effect “is a study that was done about this judgement process we go through and its impacts.  It was named by psychologist Edward Thorndike, is a cognitive bias in which an observer’s overall impression of a person, influences the observer’s feelings and thoughts about that person’s character or abilities. The halo effect will also affect how they continue to interact with that person in the future including their perception of any additional information present


In another study, by a team of scientists New York University, they found that our brains “decide” if we will trust or will accept someone in 33 milliseconds. The brain can’t help but make judgments and it’s doing it without us consciously knowing it

The Halo effect can influence a teacher in the classroom according to About education .A teacher who sees a well-behaved student might tend to assume this student is also bright and intelligent based on first impressions of behavior, before that teacher done a proper assessment has of the student’s capacity in these areas and therefore, the students get more attention. This is the Halo effect at work.

“Looks matter more than reputation when it comes to trusting people with our money”. According to new research from the University College London and Warwick business school. They found people are more likely to invest money in someone whose face is generally perceived as trustworthy, even when they are given negative information about this person’s reputation. They found when trusting people we go with our instincts and these instincts are influenced by first impressions. The Halo effect again

You may also like: Changing The Perception Of Special Needs Through Makeover: Down Syndrome Special

The Halo effect is used in marketing all the time. Companies regularly use attractive actors to endorse products. If we like the actor or they are good looking we assume the product must be good due association with the actor.

The halo effect is very present in a job interview. If an interviewer likes how the job seeker looks when they first walk in or finds them likeable in the first few minutes, they are more likely to also rate the individual as intelligent, competent, and qualified for the position due to first impressions. Competing for employment opportunities is tough in any country. The personal presentation was the number 2 priority for them on a recent survey of employers conducted by the Australian government.


Research at Princeton University has shown that we do not easily change our mind from this first initial judgment of people.

“A positive first impression for a person with a disability leads to social inclusion; negative first impressions lead to biases and social prejudice.”

Whether you realize it or not, this” halo effect “is constantly at work all day, every day. People are making decisions whether to interact with you, be friends with you, to employ you, to listen to you when you meet.

Not that we try to become all things to all people, but there are areas that we can address to have a positive first impression to increase inclusion and influence

Personal presentation is one area that we can make immediate changes so a positive first impression is created.”

How we dress speaks before we do.

Research led by Dr of Philosophy Ben C. Fletcher found at It is vitally important to choose our dress style carefully because people will make all sorts of assumptions and decisions about us without proper evidence. He notes we may think what we wear is unimportant and our sunny, intelligent personality will shine through, but research evidence shows this is not true.

What we wear speaks volumes in just a few seconds. Physical appearance speaks first when first impressions are being formed.


Coordinated clothes- an organised person

Neat tidy hair back off the face – ready to engage

Clean shoes, clothes ironed – attention to detail

Baggy unstructured clothes – easy going

Business suit- intelligent, educated

How we dress is non-verbally saying

  • “This is who I am and what I think of myself”
  • “This is how I want to be treated by you”
  • “How important this job or meeting is to me”

Due to common physical characteristics of some disabilities this can get in the way of social inclusion. For example,

If you asked the average person what they know about a person with Down syndrome they would most likely describe the physical features that they associate with Down syndrome like;

  • round, flat facial features;
  • short, round body shape.

Often common physical characteristics of a person with Down syndrome is exaggerated and unbalanced due to of lack knowledge of personal presentation and dressing E.g. a short bob haircut with a wide thick fringe on a round face makes the look even rounder

Due to people’s ignorance about down syndrome the halo effect takes over and judgements are made about the person capabilities and intellectual understanding as well just without getting to know the person

When we bring balance to facial and body shapes by understanding personal presentation, people see the person first not the syndrome and this brings about greater increase of social inclusion amongst their peers due to the halo effect at work.


Recently during a  personal presentation workshop for a group of business women, makeover images of girls with down syndrome were shown. Afterwards, they were told that the girls had down syndrome and, they were shocked, as the images didn’t fit the “Stereotype “they had of down syndrome This made them more open to the idea of people with down syndrome being employable.

Educating a person how to dress to bring out their best features empowers people and has positive effects on a person’s self-confidence and self-esteem, which then influences other areas of their life.

In Australia, after organising a personal presentation workshops for local Councils groups for people with disabilities, we saw a noticeable increase in participant’s confidence and they felt more accepted because people would comment on how good they looked.

This led them wanting to get involved in community events and activities and gave motivation for the person to improve other areas of their life.

Then similar workshops were done for the Downs syndrome society of South Australia for a group of teenage girls, where I  received amazing letters from parents saying they noticed improved levels of self-acceptance and confidence. It gave them the confidence to be proud of who they are, and to embrace their uniqueness

” Enclothed cognition” is the term used  for the effect clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes.

The term came from professor Adam D. Galinsky, at North Western’s Kellogg School of Management. In a well-known experiment he conducted, one group of people wore a white, doctor’s lab coat, the other just their normal street clothes.

He then used different trials that tested their focus and mental sharpness and accuracy. He found that those who wore the lab coats made half errors as those who wore street clothes.Galinsky’s work implies that merely wearing an item associated with intelligence can improve your cognitive abilities. ”

“What a person wears has an influence on how they express their personalities”

Improved personal presentation changes negative stereotypes of people with a disability in the community and therefore people are more accepting.It’s not about changing who you are as a person, but learning to present the best possible you.As a more accepting and inclusive attitude in the community is starting to emerge, it is my belief we need to empower people with Disabilities in practical ways. 

“We may not be conscious of it, but we market ourselves daily. How we present ourselves tells the world how we want to be treated”

Aspirations of inclusion must include education on personal presentation. A high standard of the personal presentation will achieve a higher level of social recognition. When we value and take pride in ourselves, community attitudes will change to be of valuing a person with a disability. What has value you treat differently.

The book “Love My Shape” helps you achieve this goal.


Nerida Lamprill

The Book “Love My Shape” is available online at


About Author



This is a guest post by ‘Nerida Lamprill’, the lady behind changing the perception of people with Down syndrome and other special needs and, the author of the book ‘Love My Shape.’ Nerida’s talk was very well received in the World Down Syndrome Congress and her idea was covered in many newspapers in Chennai, India. Originally an award-winning career in the fashion industry, Nerida now works extensively designing and facilitating a range of successful workshops for business organisations and the disability sector to assist people learn how to present and market themselves for success.Nerida talks about creating a great first impression and personal presentation for children with Down Syndrome and other special needs. I found Nerida very impressive and inspiring, hope you all feel the same…



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  1. Very good article. When Alina was born, my husband, her grandfather said “she is going to have the nicest clothes, no dowdy clothes for her. We keep her in style and looking very well kept
    Alina understands everything you say, but being non verbal, people would assume, that she did not understand. We had to educate people on this.

    Look for a child’s strengths. Alina, out of our eight grandchildren, is the most neat. Something falls, she picks it up, her table manners are some of the very best.

    Again, thank you for this article. Reinforces our own feelings.

  2. Yes she is right ! People do judge you on the basis of your appearance and if a little tweaking of your wardrobe or hairstyle can enhance your self confidence….why not !