Tag Archives: touch

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.

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Touching

I posted before about things people can say that Aren’t Helpful. Getting a touch more specific, one of those pieces of not-so-welcome advice I’ve gotten is “let people touch you.”

Ok, I sort of get it. I know that most people like to have those little forms of social touch like shaking hands and whatnot, and it makes them feel more comfortable around strangers and such. It gives a sense of connection. I do know all that. I know that it’s expected in social situations, and I know that a refusal on my part can seem weird or rude.

All that said, NO. Even if I was totally ok with random strangers grabbing me, I have sensory issues. There are ways that are ok to touch me and ways that aren’t. The ways that are not ok to touch me are rather odd and not the sort of thing people can be reasonably expected to guess. This means that people generally need to be trained on how to touch me, and they need to accept my boundaries. If I don’t get those things then touching isn’t cool.

On top of that, I am VERY possessive of my body. It’s mine, dammit, and I get to say what happens to it. For the record, I am also against forcing children to hug people they may not want to hug, because all it does is teach them that they don’t have the right to say who gets to touch them and how. That is one messed up message. I say that I DO get to say who gets to touch me and who doesn’t, and if I’m restrictive about it, that’s my right.

Some of the problem is phrasing. If someone were to say “socializing goes more smoothly if you can or will let people touch you,” that would be unnecessary and a tad condescending (I know that already), but not horrendously bad. But when people simply say “let people touch you,” they are essentially giving me an order without taking into account the various reasons I may have to not let people touch me. They are, intentionally or not, taking steps to remove my body autonomy from me, and that is Not Ok.

It’s great if you want to be helpful, but please think about what you’re really saying and how your words might come across.

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Filed under that's not helping

Touching

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.

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