I went over a lot of aspects of sensitivity in my last post, but since sensitivity to touch is such a big topic I thought I’d write another post to cover it.
I think this is probably the most complicated area for sensitivity issues because people can experience sensitivity to touch in many different ways. For me one of the most critical aspects in how I respond to being touched is whether I know it’s coming or not. For example, I like being hugged, but if someone hugs me without me expecting it, the hug can feel really strange and uncomfortable. Maybe there is some preparation that goes on in my mind before I am touched that changes how I feel about the touch, but if someone just pats me on the back or puts their arm around me without my acknowledgement I feel very tense and the touch can seem really heavy and burdensome. I also find that when I initiate the touch, by leaning against someone or putting myself into open arms for a hug, the touch feels a lot better than if the other person initiates it.
Soft, gentle, circular movements also feel a lot better than pats and rubbing in one direction. Even a soft pat on the back can feel like a heavy weight against me if I’m not ready for it. Touches need to be soft, slow, and acknowledged so that I can process them instead of them seeming quick and unwelcomed.
If I were to give advice to a parent of a child with autism, I’d say to ask your child if it is ok to scrub their hair for example, and then if the child says no or shakes their head, to ask them how they would like their hair to be scrubbed and have them show you or move your hands so that you know it’s ok. I know that this can be difficult with younger children that may not be able to do this, but I’d say to just do the best you can to make the kid as comfortable as possible and that’s the best you can do until they get old enough to let you know when it’s ok to hug them or other things like that. Just be patient, it’s as hard for the person with autism as it is for the people around them.