Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Don't Touch My Skin"

So many people with autism do not like to be touched. Before I really knew what autism was I had heard that people with autism feel things differently than the rest of us. I had heard that a gentle touch might hurt like a burn or a soft touch might feel very rough. This may be true for some but I am not sure that would be the right description for how Tate feels when he is touched. And, yes. He hates to be touched.

When Tate was very young he did not seem to have an aversion to being held, touched, or cuddled for the most part. He seemed to enjoy it like my other babies had. But he did not like to be caressed. He got upset and would stiffen and fuss if I ever tried to rub his back or his neck. I thought that was odd because my other children loved to have their backs rubbed and always had. So, as hard as it was I tried to remember. He often let me know when I forgot.

Now that Tate is older and can talk, he can sometimes put his discomfort into words that I can understand. He has a lot of trouble with meaningful conversation so he does not go into long explanations but he can give me a little insight on occasion. I think Tate was about eight or nine, when he began to say, “Don’t touch my skin” as he pulled away from my hugs. It seems to be the skin-to-skin contact that bothers him. If there is fabric between us he is more tolerant of touching. But even then he seems a little nervous, like he is afraid our skin might touch if he is not careful. He still says, “Don’t touch my skin” fairly often when I touch him. He doesn’t melt down or run away screaming; And I don’t think he is actually in pain but I do think it is uncomfortable for him. I can only imagine because I do not have all the sensory issues he deals with, but I think I can liken it to being “creeped out” by something that we might think is gross. He has an aversion to being touched by another person’s skin like one of us might have to touching a slimey slug or something really unappealing. I don’t know why, but it is what it is. I, myself, have always had an aversion to touching crushed velvet or velour. If I had to sleep under a blanket of either of those fabrics I would be pretty miserable. If I had to wear clothing made of either of those fabrics I would probably not get anything done all day while I sat and tried not to move. Ha. So, maybe I DO have an idea of what Tate is dealing with! I know a girl who hates to touch raw meat. It is really hard for her to cook sometimes for this reason. I have no aversion to touching raw meat but I sort of “get” what she means when she talks about how creepy it is for her.

Tate does not like to touch animals either. I am no expert on sensory issues, and I could be very wrong about this, but I don’t think that Tate’s issues with skin-to-skin contact are exactly the same as his issues with touching animals. I can almost see a shudder if I rub Tate’s back or touch his neck. I do not see the same shudder when an animal touches him. Oh, he hates it. He hates it a lot if a cat rubs up against him or if we ask him to touch a dog. He reaches out two fingers and barely touches the animal, ready to jerk his hand back quickly. I believe the issue Tate has with animals is more from the unpredictability of the animal. He cannot guess what the animal is going to do and surprises are frightening to a person with autism. As fate would have it, our animals are very attracted to Tate. Poor guy! Ha.

I asked Tate this evening if he wanted to hold our new puppy, fully knowing the answer I would get. Then I asked him why he did not like to touch animals, trying to gain some more insight. He said, “You know, animals can attack you.” I laughed and told him that the puppy was just a baby and wouldn’t attack anyone. He smiled and said, “I just don’t want him to bother me.” He has shown a little bit of interest in the puppy from afar and I’ve been pretty excited about that baby step.

So. Do I live my life carefully trying to avoid touching Tate? NO WAY! I am sympathetic and always watchful that we do not push him harder than he can stand, but affection is very important and he has to suffer through lots of hugs.
Tate, age 12

There is a four-year-old boy at the congregation where we worship. He (like our cats and dog… Haha) is drawn to Tate. The little guy wraps himself around Tate’s legs and hugs him at almost every church service. It is the cutest thing. His family has asked me repeatedly if they should try to stop him. My answer is always the same, “No! It is great therapy!” Lately, Tate gets out of the van to enter the church building saying, “That kid will NOT hug me this time!” The cool thing is: he has a smile on his face when he says it! See? The free therapy is paying off! Bring on the hugs.

Here is another post about the way Tate feels things: Does it hurt?

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