Why I don’t like social touch

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.


Filed under issue, personal

19 responses to “Why I don’t like social touch

  1. Tricia

    “Touch is sticky!
    […] 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. ”

    I nodded right through this entire post.

    Touch is not sticky to me, but touch is bothersome if done too lightly. And then I must rub. If it’s real bad, I have to wash the area or even put a band-aid on it. Light touch sensitizes my skin so much that it feels like a burn – not a hot burn like a fire, but a burn in that all the nerve endings are on end and screaming. Intermittent touch, heavy or light, will do the same. If Patty is bouncing her knee, I can’t have her pant leg touching my leg at all.

    I admire that you’re able to do the touch, I have not been able to work through light touch at all, other than to train those around me never to do it. The thought of working on light touch, which I’m obviously doing while writing this response, has me tense and my stomach in knots. Not sure I could do it, not sure I’d want to put myself through that. I’d cry.

  2. I’ve been having several discussions with people about this lately, why I don’t hold hands during the Our Father at Mass, or hug or shake hands with people during the sign of peace. The common opinion is, If you don’t like it, just do it because everyone else is, and I have to say, No! I love you all as my brothers and sisters in Christ but –don’t touch me!!– That’s hard to convey.

    • I hope you’re able to find a way to explain it to them. So many people seem to that that since something (in this case, touching) isn’t a big deal to them, it shouldn’t be a big deal to us either.

  3. YES! I got in trouble in elementary school when a teacher patted my shoulder. I didn’t like the feeling it left after. So I brushed it off. I got in trouble! D:< What the hell?

    "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!”
    Exactly! 🙂

  4. I’m glad i don’t have major touch issues like this, maybe it’s because i am lower on the spectrum, perhaps it’s because my sensitivities are elsewhere, particularly sounds. There are some sounds that i don’t like so i have found my way to avoid them is music i like through headphones.

    • susie

      I am the same as you, touch is fine. infact i crave it. but i am so sensitive to sounds. could be a lower spectrum thing maybe! i wondered that. 🙂

  5. Fay Kesby

    I’m the same – not so much that touch is stick but it leaves an after burn almost that I have to rub off. Only strangers or people I’m not cose to though, my family, friend, housemates – they’re all fine, but if someone brushes me when they walk pat me I have to rub it off or I feel all tingly to the pint wher it can begin to hurt.

  6. I have to rub off light touch too. But weirdly, unintentional light touch is OK. If my child sits beside me playing and touches me accidentically during play, I get goosebumps from pleasure. But if she reaches out and stroke my arm lightly, I would have to rub it off.

    If someone I dislike touches me, I want to physically recoil and rub and scratch the place where they touched me, and sort of try to shake it off violently. That touch makes me feel sick, and the effect lasts quite a while.

    ‘Sticky’ is a good description!

  7. KJ

    Sticky is a great description. It’s true of people but can also be true of objects. Here’s where I get a little weird (I’m used to weird as I am female diagnosed with Aspergers): I can often “feel” the personality of the last person to touch an object. It’s like an energy residue I’m sensitive to. (Psychometry) I feel that “sticky” energy stronger when I’m physically touched. Anyone else feel that too?

  8. GwynMari

    “Sticky” is exactly the word! Now here’s an interesting twist to throw in: I have the same reaction, especially to light or casual touch, and I have no Asperger’s at all, just a history of trauma from abuse. Wonder if there are similarities in underlying reasons or just coincidence of effect?

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  10. yola

    Horrific abuse of person on autism spectrum: News reports show more and more autistic people being targeted for abuse:


    Caregivers charged with abuse: Michael Garritson, Matthew McDuffie.


  11. touchmenot

    Hi there! Your blog was the first one to come up when I was searching for, “Don’t touch me, I have Asperger.” I definitely agree with you on this cringe-worthy topic and It’s quite reassuring that I’m not alone on this one.

    Yes, I have a problem with being touched intentionally or otherwise by strangers, acquaintances, friends (#scoffs) and even family (at times). I’d wear clothes in layers and outerwears even if it’s hot, especially in public places. It sort of acts as a second barrier to minimize the effect of the “light touch”. I make sure that no one or nothing comes in contact with the skin. If it does, I experience an extreme wave of heebiejeebies (as they would call it) that would sometimes make me nauseous–and the desire to blow their faces off.

    If a “friend” rest their head on my shoulder without my consent, I would nonchalantly unbalanced my shoulder making their head fall. If a classmates is required to touch my hand and does it, I’d rub them off with an alcohol or wash it off then I’d punch them in the face (If I could). If a relative greets me by kissing my cheek, I’d wipe it instantly and feel the urge to punch them too.

    I don’t like being hugged by anyone. No, not even my mom. I feel the need to pull away or I freeze and hold my breath.

    If I could put an alarm that goes off or an eject button if someone dares to come near me I would, in a heartbeat.

  12. CB

    I would be curious for those sensitive to touch and sticky residue to read Barbara Brennan’s Hands of Light and see what you think of it and the drawings of energy exchange; if that explains anything or if it’s still off the mark. I’d be curious to know in Asperger’s if there is a correlation between the emotion/intention the person touching you has compared to how you internally feel it. Like a big difference being does the person hugging/touching you **NEED** you and are they taking your energy, and that part feels very negative, or if they are truly expressing love/care for you, can you tolerate that touching and it feels better because they are giving you positive energy. Does everyone feel sticky or just the unbalanced people not operating from their heart center?

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