I’ve been reading Temple Grandin’s book “Thinking in Pictures.” As with most books on autism or Asperger’s, there are things I can relate to and things I can’t, things I like and things I don’t like. There are a few things I’ve come across in the book, but right now I want to talk about a sentence that really pissed me off.
In the book there is a chapter on sensory difficulties that people on the autism spectrum tend to face. For the record, I actually rather enjoyed the majority of what she said in this section, and there were a number of things I could relate to, like a childhood fear of escalators. Unfortunately, at one point she said this: “Helping autistic children fulfill that most basic human need, the comfort of touch, is like taming an animal. At first they pull away, but then they learn that touching feels good.”
First of all, that was an incredibly dehumanizing thing to say. I rarely mind animal analogies, and I frequently compare myself to cats. This one, however, really bothered me. Plus, it does not seem accurate to me. In that section, she was talking about her squeeze machine and how it prevents her from being able to suddenly pull away from the pressure. Apparently this works for her, and that’s fantastic. However, in this case it seems that she generalized her experiences to everyone on the autism spectrum. For me personally, I do very poorly with feeling trapped, and I am likely to panic if I try to suddenly pull away and can’t.
Also, here’s another animal analogy. I have taught my cats to be very tolerant to touch and to being held and other such things. One of my primary tools was to respect it if they needed to get away. Since they know I’m not going to push them past what they can handle, they are comfortable with (or at least tolerate) a lot more contact. That said, getting them to accept being touched by me (or by the vet, or whoever else needs to handle them) was NOT liking “taming” them. They are domestic cats, they were already tame.
Ok, now I want to address her second sentence specifically. “Then they learn that touching feels good.” Now, I will admit it, that type of statement is triggery for me. The last thing I need is for people to teach me that blah-de-blah-thing actually feels good, even if I think it feels bad, just because they think it should. If a person has touch issues such that touch feels bad, you’re not going to get them to learn that touching actually feels good just by forcing them to experience it. Maybe you can desensitize them to their problems with touch. Maybe you can figure out a specific type of touch that feels good. Maybe there is something about being touched that is oogy to them, and it can be identified and avoided. Or maybe you can just teach them to suppress their issues and lie about how touching makes them feel. But taking a person who doesn’t like touch and teaching them to like it via restraint? No way. Not ever, and I find it horrifying that people might contemplate that.
I admit I might be overreacting, but that statement of hers really got to me. I think I’m going to aim for writing about one of the things I really liked in the book for my next post.