Understanding Why Autistic People May Reject Social Touch
One of the hardest challenges for families facing autism is the problem of touch. Often, autistic children resist hugging and other types of physical contact, causing distress all around.
Now, a new study offers insight into why some people shrug off physical touches and how families affected by autism may learn to share hugs without overwhelming an autistic childs senses.
Yale neuroscientists recruited 19 young adults and imaged their brain activity as a researcher lightly brushed them on the forearm with a soft watercolor paintbrush. In some cases, the brushing was quick, and in others slow: prior studies have shown that most people like slow brushing and perceive it as affectionate contact, while the faster version is felt as less pleasant and more tickle-like.
None of the participants in the current study had autism, but the researchers evaluated them for autistic traits things like a preference for sameness, order and systems, rather than social interaction. They found that participants with the highest levels of autistic traits had a lower response in key social brain regions the superior temporal sulcus and orbitofrontal cortex to the slow brushing.
The current findings suggest that the region is also involved in processing social touch and that its response is linked to the individuals social ability, she says.
Communication And Interaction Tips For Asd
There are no hard-and-fast rules on how to communicate with a child with ASD. But many family members have had success with these tips:
It can be challenging to interact with a child or grandchild with ASD. But it is one of the most important things you can do to help that child learn. Research shows that early, frequent, and loving involvement of family members is one of the best ways to help children with ASD.
Assume That Most Of Their Identity Is Down To Autism Rather Than Personality Choices
The phrase yeah, thats his autism is one I have heard far too many times. Even in professional circles.
Yes, our autism influences us. Yes, it often gives us particular habits or interests unique to us. But to say its just his/her autism is implying that we dont get any say in the matter.
I remember when I was running a chess tournament in a special school . One crucial match was scheduled for a day when the school was doing a special event. Throughout the day there was only one opportunity for this game to be played and ten minutes before the start, one of the students got a migraine and had to go home.
This stressed me out because I was relying on that matchs result so I could drive straight to the trophy centre after work and have the prizes engraved . And Im fairly transparent, so people could tell I was bothered by something.
When I told one of my colleagues I was feeling stressed, she immediately asked me oh dear- is it because todays been a break from routine?
No, it wasnt.
Some other examples:
That said, there is a balance. Like I said, autism does have an impact on us. I used to watch Independence Day on video over and over and over and over again when I was twelve, and you could validly say that this habit was influenced by my Aspergers. But the main reason it happened was because Independence Day was an awesome movie!
Also Check: Is Shaun From The Good Doctor Really Autistic
We Dont Always Follow The Rules
There are many rules in life which we have to learn that are never taught. For example, we say thank you for a gift regardless of whether we like it, or asking if someone else wants the last slice of anything . The problem is, these subtle social guidelines are everywhere and, more often than not, autistic people break them without a second thought.
Obviously, it is not an autistic persons intention to break these rules, its just that, as the autistic mind works on absolutes , it can be a challenge to understand many of these acts wherein nearly all cases they go against how they would seem i.e. if someone asks how are you? they dont always actually want to hear how you are, they just want you to say fine and then you can move on.
Nevertheless, whilst autistic people arent great at getting the message when the message hasnt been made clear, we are incredible at memorizing what we are told and are brilliant at following instructions to the letter. Therefore, if theres some kind of rule that an autistic person doesnt seem to be following, just tell us. its not like we want to be naïve to this and, whats more, if you know we struggle and arent doing anything about it, well that, my friend, is perhaps more rude than anything we do.
How To Help Those On The Autism Spectrum Who Have Touch Aversion
“Persons with autism may exhibit repeated body movements , unusual responses to people or attachments to objects and resistance to changes in routines. Individuals may also experience sensitivities in the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.” Autism Society of Delaware, 2005
Here is an often too common scenario:
An NT mother has a child on the autism spectrum. The parent wants to show love to her child. But she has a secret. Her young one hits her, turns away from her, and does not want to even be close to her. The NT mother wonders, what is she doing wrong?
Or here’s another scenario:
Aspie guy meets NT girl. NT girl wants to show her affection to her boyfriend. She comes up behind him and gives him a hug. He stiffens and pushes her away. She is bewildered, confused, and sad. Why doesn’t he want her hug?
To all of you on the autism spectrum, I have a request: Please be patient with us. We have a lot to learn.
Fortunately, there is more and more information available about autism characteristics. One of these has to do with strong sensitivity to touch. And it’s not just touch. It can be light, sound, and smells.
But the focus of this article will be how many individuals with autism experience touch, some of the challenges with touch, and how both individuals with autism and individuals without can understand and relate to each other better in light of the facts.
Why the Difficulty with Touch?
Recommended Reading: When Will A Child With Autism Start Talking
Repetitive Behaviors And Motor Movements
Some children with autism spectrum disorder may flap their hands or rock back and forth, repeat lines from books or movies, or have strong or muted reactions to sensory stimuli . They may have a particular interest or hobby that is unusually intense compared to those of other children their age. Children with ASD may insist on certain routines or patterns in everyday life or want to play with toys in atypical ways .
Re: Why Do I Hate Being Touched
by seaurchin» Sun Aug 11, 2013 6:41 pm
masquerade wrote:If this problem is really concerning you and you feel that it’s impacting on the quality of your life, and that you’re missing out on life experiences, then maybe you should see a professional? A professional can offer a diagnosis if needed or work with you in ways that allow you to accept yourself just as you are if you don’t see the need for change.
Also Check: How To Recognise Autism In Your Child
Autism Hobbies & Interests
Programming was my lifeOne characteristic of autism is having special interests and some of the activities people described enjoying could be interpreted as special interests. Interests could be categorised into a love of nature, arts and technology.
Most people enjoyed and were fascinated by or even obsessed with computers. Daniel said, I have to say, probably most sort of leisure time is spent sort of fannying around on the computer while Richard, an obsessive games player played games for as long as he could.
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Treatment For The Fear Of Being Touched:
Psychoanalysis can help somebody with the phobia of being touched. Coping with the reason someone dislikes you touching him will offer help to resolve it. Most times, the individual might be a victim of unwanted physical contact. An example might be a sexual attack. Finding professional care is important.
Search for a medical expert. A trained professional will help you discuss the problems of the past. Some people gain advantages from alternative remedies like hypnotherapy and drumming treatment.
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Allow The World To Teach Them That Autism Is A Bad Thing
Right from the moment we hear about it, were instructed to believe that autism is A Bad Thing. Thats why people like me get so many messages from worried parents, asking what theyre supposed to do post-diagnosis because they dont know anything about autism.
But their worries reveal that they do know one thing about it: its supposed to be bad.
Speaking as an autistic man, my opinions differ somewhat. But I understand their panic completely. The unknown can be very scary if you feel somethings bad but you dont know why.
Now, non-autistic people seeing only the negatives is counterproductive enough. But imagine the damage that gets done when autistic people themselves are led to believe that their autism makes them deficient.
Heck, combine this point with #1 and talk about how terrible autism is right in front of them, and watch what happens to their self-esteem!
Ill give two examples that struck me greatly. First of all, theres Cadence.
For those who arent aware, and this picture below went sort-of-viral not long ago.
You may have already spotted the most tragic sentence , but Ill quote it anyway:
Grownups always say its hard being mum or dad if your kid is autism.
Looking at their page, it becomes obvious that Mum and Dad are doing a sterling job as parents. But other people- the TV, and perhaps even society itself- have led Cadence to believe that a large part of her personality is A Bad Thing. Which is absolutely not fair.
Why Do Some Children Have Clothing Sensitivities
All people process sensory information in their own way. It is why some of us like spicy foods while others want nothing to do with the heat. Some people enjoy rock concerts and others cant stand to be around all that racket. Our sensory systems have a tough job to do. They help us sort through all of the incoming information that our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin help to capture. The sensory system plays a role in modulating some of that information, meaning it helps the information that seems important to stand out while blurring other information into the background. It also plays a role in habituation- learning that there isnt a need to respond to certain ongoing sensory information, such as the way our clothes feel throughout the day. The unique way an individual processes sensory information can cause them to sometimes be hypersensitive or hyposensitivite . Our perception of the world around us directly influences our behaviours and emotions.
Children with clothing sensitivity fall into the hypersensitive category. The feel of clothing can be very irritating for these children. Because of difficulties with modulation and habituation, the feeling of the clothing stays in the forefront of their mind and they do not get used to the feeling over time. Furthermore, children with autism can sometimes have difficulty with temperature regulation, meaning what feels hot or cold to you, may not feel uncomfortable to your child, and vice versa.
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How Does Aversion To Touch Affect Relationships
You donât have to be an expert on touch aversion to realize that it can be extremely damaging for relationships. Not wanting to be touched can lead to the other person feeling rejected, and a lack of intimacy is enough to ruin a relationship before it even starts.
Of course, this isnât the case for all relationships which are affected by touch aversion. An understanding partner is vital, but on the whole, being in a relationship with someone who wonât allow you to touch them, and who cringes or looks scared when it looks like you might reach out for a hug, can be extremely difficult for even the most understanding of partners.
Getting An Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis
The road to an ASD diagnosis can be difficult and time-consuming. In fact, it is often two to three years after the first symptoms of ASD are noticed before an official diagnosis is made. This is due in large part to concerns about labeling or incorrectly diagnosing the child. However, an ASD diagnosis can also be delayed if the doctor doesnt take a parents concerns seriously or if the family isnt referred to health care professionals who specialize in developmental disorders.
If youre worried that your child has ASD, its important to seek out a clinical diagnosis. But dont wait for that diagnosis to get your child into treatment. Early intervention during the preschool years will improve your childs chances for overcoming their developmental delays. So look into treatment options and try not to worry if youre still waiting on a definitive diagnosis. Putting a potential label on your kids problem is far less important than treating the symptoms.
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Sensory Integration A Theory Behind Tactile Defensiveness
Jean Ayres thought tactile hypersensitivity occurs because the brain pays too much attention to light touch and protective sensations from the skin. Instead of listening to the extra information available from the discriminative pathway, the brain keeps paying attention to the light touch and protective sensations. These sensations are designed to alert the body to a problem or threat. They are designed to keep the body safe.
Each time the brain receives a message from these pathways it initially thinks that something might be wrong. It gets ready to protect the body. This is called a fight, flight or freeze response. Jean Ayres thought that the brains of children and adults with tactile defensiveness interpret ordinary touch sensations, such as clothing textures or hugs, as a threat. Their brains pay more attention to light touch sensations than the brains of children without touch sensitivity.
This helps to explain the behaviours that are seen in children or adults with tactile defensiveness. Their responses to everyday touch can often result in meltdowns, arguments and avoidance. This is because their brains are feeling that touch in the same way you might if you touched something hot or ran into a spider web. The everyday touch activates their brains protective system and triggers a fight, flight or freeze response. Some adults with touch hypersensitivity have also reported that certain everyday touch sensations feel painful.
Related Signs And Symptoms Of Autism Spectrum Disorder
While not part of autisms official diagnostic criteria, children with autism spectrum disorders often suffer from one or more of the following problems:
Sensory problems Many children with autism spectrum disorders either underreact or overreact to sensory stimuli. At times they may ignore people speaking to them, even to the point of appearing deaf. However, at other times they may be disturbed by even the softest sounds. Sudden noises such as a ringing telephone can be upsetting, and they may respond by covering their ears and making repetitive noises to drown out the offending sound. Children on the autism spectrum also tend to be highly sensitive to touch and to texture. They may cringe at a pat on the back or the feel of certain fabric against their skin.
Emotional difficulties Children with autism spectrum disorders may have difficulty regulating their emotions or expressing them appropriately. For instance, your child may start to yell, cry, or laugh hysterically for no apparent reason. When stressed, they may exhibit disruptive or even aggressive behavior . The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities also notes that kids with ASD may be unfazed by real dangers like moving vehicles or heights, yet be terrified of harmless objects such as a stuffed animal.
Savant skills in autism spectrum disorder
Recommended Reading: How To Get Autistic Toddler To Sleep
Additional Resources For Autism And Sensory Overload
Autism Speaks, the worlds leading autism science and advocacy organization, along with other prominent organizations, provides resources to help autistic individuals and parents of children with autism or a sensory overload disorder, including the below:
Autism is a lifelong condition for which there is no definitive cure. As a society continuing to learn more about autism, there are more and more ways to help support people who have it. Through early detection, as well as structured support and strategies to minimize symptoms, you can successfully manage the condition so that you or your family member can live a fulfilling life.
Through this guide, we hope that youve increased your understanding of the world of an ASD person, particularly in the areas of noise sensitivities and other sensory overload challenges. We hope that you find the tips, advice and noise solutions for autism presented above to stop sensory overload helpful in managing the condition for yourself or your loved one.
Soundproof Cow team member to learn more about soundproofing a home for individuals with autism.
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