Sometimes scientists like to ponder why people on the autism spectrum reject social touch. In one instance, they ran a study that did not actually involve person-to-person touch on a bunch of neurotypical people, after assessing them for autism-like traits. Apparently looking at neurotypical brains gave the scientists all sort of ideas as to what might be going on in an autistic brain. Doing a study about autistic traits without using autistic people strikes me as incredibly odd.
Now, I am not a scientist. I can’t tell you anything about what happens in my brain when people touch me. I can, however, tell you a little bit about my own subjective experiences with social touch, and how I perceive it. I have already talked some about how I have sensory issues and have to be touched in certain ways. Now I’m going to look at it from a slightly different angle.
I have actually been thinking about this topic for weeks now. I know there’s something oogy about being touched by strangers, but I was having a lot of trouble nailing it down. Well, not too long ago I wrote a short story about aspergers, and in it I included a brief comment about the main character rubbing a touch off. I didn’t even think about it very much at the time; that’s just what I have to do when someone unexpectedly touches me. Then, later, it hit me. THAT is a really big reason as to why I don’t like the sort of casual connection-building touching that other people like.
Touch is sticky!
That’s honestly the best way I have to conceptualize it. When someone touches me, that touch sticks to me. It stays there, being all weird on my skin, and I have to rub it off. Or scratch it off. Or claw it off. It varies. Everyone’s touch is sticky, there are no exceptions. So for me, being ok with someone touching me is about being ok with their touch sticking to me. Actively touching someone else is like saying “hey, I like the way your touch sticks to me.” A hug involves getting someone’s sticky on me in places I cannot easily rub it off. Not without doing that whole bear-scratching-its-back-against-a-tree-move, anyway. CLASSY. So if I actively hug you, I’m saying “your touch is going to stick to me in weird places for probably quite a while, and I’m good with that!”
If scientists want to do a study about people on the spectrum rejecting social touch, maybe they should consider having aspies and autistic people as subjects, and have the study involve actual social touch, rather than brushing that may or may not set off sensory issues. Just sayin’. Though if someone could give me a scientific explanation of the sticky thing, that would be pretty cool.