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Blog and Podcasts about Autism

Sensory

Don't stand so close to me!Space, is this invisible area around us which people instinctively know is there. People have a sense of personal space and usually make a marked effort to stay in their own space unless necessary. For some of us on the spectrum, knowing where these spaces start and end can be very difficult to distinguish. Having personal space is very important to me as it can change me from being in a good mood to a very angry mood at times with only one single touch. Touch/tactile senses are something I find very difficult handle. Like many people I do like a hug and a kiss from those I love. It is a great way to bond, show affection and to connect. Who doesn’t want to feel cared for and loved, right? But touch is a very special thing for me, personally.

When others touch me, depending on my connection or familiarity with them, it can either be quite a painful or a very emotional. Like any mother, I love cuddles and kisses with my babies, they are sweet (most of the time) and I want them to always feel like no matter what they can always get a hug and kiss when they want one. I have love and bond with them, so this makes that contact easier for me to handle. Not always but 99% of the time, I am ok with the unexpected hugs and kisses. My husband too, I love hugs from him, I try my best to hug him when I remember, or feel like I just need a hug. This affection, though, is usually on my terms and bless him Adam has gotten used to that and just lets me be the leader. As much as I love him and as close as we are though, I still, even after near 19 years of marriage, jump when he touches my neck or back when I am not expecting it…actually even when I am. It isn’t that I don’t like it; it just is a lot for my senses.

With both the boys and Adam, I don’t like getting hugs or being touched when I am angry about something or I am in the middle of a busy task. It just disturbs my thought processes and then I get frustrated. For example, my eldest decided when his father and I were putting items up in the loft that he would come upstairs to ask for a hug. My first thought was, “Really? Surely you can see I am busy doing something? Of all the times to ask, you ask me right now?” But what I did was just say,“Ok come get a hug, but I am really busy so it’s only quick.” When this happens I don’t really like it as I feel like it may be giving a begrudged hug on my part and I don’t want him to think it is a harassment for me. In my head I am think, just wait a few minutes then I can give you a nice hug. I am also aware that I don’t want my child to feel rejected by me in any way by refusing a hug, as I know all too well from my own childhood how painful that can be. So I always hug them no matter what.

Remembering to hug my children also takes some forethought on my part. It is natural to want to hug your children, but there are times when I am unhappy, sometimes for no reason and hugging for me can almost be too much to physically to take. And this is something I’m always try to work on. I also have to be mindful of the tactile issues of my children. The eldest is very sensitive to touch and therefore any major pressures, even a hug can cause him to complain about pain, whereas the youngest loves nothing more than a super big über squeezy hug, any time any where. In fact, he loves to be “squeezed for juice”, at every opportunity. He enjoys the sensation of the pressure that comes from those squeezy sessions and they often serve to calm him and we all have a bit of a giggle.

These senses of touch also affect the children’s threshold of pain tolerance. With our eldest, practically any bump, pat or bang from his poor spatial awareness results in a cry or whinge about something hurting. Our youngest however has such a high tolerance, that when he was three he tripped over a toy and broke his little arm and didn’t cry once. It was awful for him and I realised on the way to A&E that his way of dealing with that pain was to sleep in the car on the way, which was unheard of for him. This high pain threshold also affects his ability to know when he is unwell or determine that he has a tummy ache or headache, which can be problematic as we always have to be on the watch for signs that he may be unwell. We can usually tell as he actually tends to sit still, or sleep more or become extra affectionate which are always big signs he is not well. He is also the only child I have ever known that can be vomit and then want to eat right after. The eldest always complains of pain and often the reactions is far worse than what caused the “pain” in the first place. This had lead to a bit of a cry wolf scenario as we automatically jump quick and fast as the screams are blood curdling and it usually turns out he has just tap his finger on the wall or pulls some skin at the side of his fingernail. FOr us it is deciphering the “actual” degree of serious of his “injuries”.

For me, as a child I loved to go on the merry-go-round(roundabout) in our local play-park, it made for hours of good lone fun for me. I would go on alone (because I would threaten anyone silly enough to dare get one with me) and just spin for hours. I realised on reflection that what I really loved was the feedback and pressure I got from the g-forces of that ride. I would spin it as fast as I could possibly make it go and lean my arms and head back as the pressure was really intense and stare at the sky. It was like getting a massive squeezy hug from someone without the actual need for someone to touch me. It was amazing and kept me entertain daily. Swings were also a favourite of mine, again I could stay on the all day. I did try to follow my brother’s example and flip off them which looked cool, but I just found I ended up with a mouth full of sand and tears and a mother who thought it was the funniest thing she had seen all day.

Hugs, handshaking, kiss greetings and pats are all things that are part of social living. Although admittedly, I really wish you NT’s would come up with a concrete greeting that everyone did the same as to help void the shoulder face planting I do and the awkward stupid feelings I get when greeting someone I barely know. One kiss, two kiss, handshake, hug thing is so complicated. It is more like a free masons initiation greeting rather than just a good old hiya. I always get it wrong and if I had it my way it would be waves Hello all round at a sensible distance. But I realise this is something I cannot get away from, either when I meeting or leaving others. My girlfriends, always hug me hello and goodbye, but I know and prepare myself for it. It always makes me feel anxious but at least I know it is coming. Kissing the strangers on the cheeks is something I hate as I personally feel kissing a special and for those I care about, peck or not. Beside after, all I can feel is their spit on my face and it stops me concentrating on what anyone is actually saying. Handshaking is also the very same, although having been in many business environments, I am fully away of what is expected and prepare myself for the obligatory strong handshake to show I mean business or am not one to be taken lightly. I realise and have learned that this is part of the social expectation of society and therefore not something that is going to go away for me.

Again, this isn’t something I like to do and it too often means I have their “touch” on my hand for some time after and I often find that I get quite a sharp, almost stabbing pain down my ear which goes to across my jaw to my chin and it is actually quite painful, almost like an electric shock. Then it is like…well a bit like “cooties” or “germs”. I need to get that touch off of me before I can move on. Usually I have “wipe” the area over by touching someone I do like or love. Often it is one of the kids or a friend. My friends or kids never know I am doing it, I am sure they just think I am being affectionate all of a sudden, but in fact I am use them as a de-cooty-er, which helps bring me back a slightly less state of a freak out. Most of my affection/physical contact requires it to be on my terms. As mentioned before my children of course come and hug and kiss me all the time and for the most part I oblige happily, unless they do it when I am trying to go to the loo, which believe me, with their lack of personal space happens more often than you would think.

Shopping and touching is a complete nightmare though. I especially hate for strangers to touch me, whether on purpose or as an accident. Whilst I am sure it doesn’t seem like a big deal…it is to me and at the time when these things happen, I am all I care about. This happens in the shops or out in public spaces and some of it may also be my fault as my spatial awareness isn’t great and perhaps I think I am smaller than I actually am for the spaces. I may be going about my business trying to rush around and get the things I need to get while all my hearing, sense of smell and sight are all being assaulted and my brain is on high alert too as I am trying to read my shopping list and ensure my children don’t fight and /or break or grab things off the shelves and this is when someone will always bump into me. Yes, I know that perhaps at times it can be my fault as my proprioception is terrible and I usually misjudge where I am or objects are in comparison to my body, but it makes no difference, the touch, even a brush passed by a stranger can put me on edge and makes me more anxious. Again, de-cootying is a must so I can get in and get out fast.

Tactile senses don’t only apply to people touching but can also apply to materials such as clothing or furniture. Some items can be very scratchy and painful and some can be so soft they tickle. Everyone is different and their level and preferences for materials often vary greatly. Adam I know has an aversion for certain shirts and their materials and he won’t wear them no matter the price if they don’t feel comfortable to him. The boys are very much the same, each one having items of clothing that is their particular preference and as well as items that can set them off and put them in poor moods. The youngest and I both dislike wearing coats, even when it is cold. I will wear a coat but I hate how restrictive they feel and prefer loose items. The little one likes more tightly worn items but hate items to enclose his neck or be too close to his face. My eldest likes items to be satiny or soft and have the tags in. MY husband and the youngest like the tags off. Me, I like loose items, hate dresses, chiffon materials and don’t like items that are layered with many items. We all hate socks as they restrict our feet and all dislike seams of any kind on just about form of clothing. We have little fleecy blankets our kids can use and snuggle, but the youngest says they are too soft, while the eldest loves them because he can play with the tassels and they are just soft enough for him. We all have to adjust to our own very different senses and what works best individually. So, whether it is a touch from someone else or touch from materials against our skin we all have certain levels of touch that we can or cannot handle.