Tuesday, June 13, 2017
April 10th- Daily Autism Post- Personal Space Issues
Dexter is very aware of his personal space. He doesn't like being touched at all by strangers, so we've had to work on helping his comfort level with things like doctors and dentists. Now that he's older and more capable of understanding things, it's usually easier. He's also learned that if he tells them that he doesn't like to be touched and would like to have things explained before you touch him he feels more in control. Our doctors and dentist are fantastic with him.
Other things we just avoid. I do haircuts at home because it's a sensory struggle because it itches, clippers are loud, and it vibrates on his head. At least if I do it, we aren't adding a stranger to the mix.
He also isn't always a fan of being touched in general. He doesn't like it when people casually touch him... patting his back, putting a hand on his shoulder, ruffling his hair. It's just unnecessary in his mind, and it feels like a violation of his space. Every night when I tuck the kids in, I ask if he wants a hug and a kiss. Sometimes he says yes, but many nights I get a fist bump or a high five. He's not trying to tell me that he doesn't love me or that he's mad; he just doesn't feel like being touched.
Things are significantly better this year than last. Before we got his anxiety under control, he really couldn't handle being touched. People bumping into him or brushing against him in the hallway at school completely set him off.
To most people, something like a quick hug from a friend is nothing. Someone brushing your arm as they pass by is almost unnoticeable. For Dex, if he doesn't want to be hugged and you do it, he feels trapped and like his body is being violated. People knocking into him in crowded places is more than he can take.
We have a lot of easy solutions. Most obviously, if he doesn't want to be touched, don't touch him. No one, autistic or not, should have to hug someone if they don't want to. Your body, your choice. He also chooses to sit separate anytime he can. (At church, he sits in the row in front of us, so his siblings don't bump him or get in his space.) In Disney World, we rented a stroller and covered it with a blanket so he had personal space and didn't have to see the crowds. At school, he can sit away from other kids, and when he's too overwhelmed, he leaves the room, He also doesn't eat in the lunch room. Last year, his desk was in the hallway right outside the door.
Interestingly enough, he has significantly less regard for other people's personal space. If I'm doing something on my phone that interests him, he'll hover right over me or climb into my lap. His space bubble rule also has one other exception. Dogs. Tori and Alfred can always lay on him, lick his face, breath on him... He likes being crushed by Alfred and is happiest when Tori is on him. I am so thankful he has that connection.
The bad... it can be a struggle sometimes when we are in crowded places or when people don't understand how physical touch can be too much for him.
The good... there is nothing wrong with not wanting to be touched. His body, his choice. We've worked on him learning to be kind but direct about his wishes. He'll let you know if he doesn't want a hug and he'll tell doctors to let him know what they are doing, so he is aware and feels in control.
Bottom line... he should be treated no differently than anyone else in the world. If someone doesn't want to be touched, respect that. He just exercises that right more than some other people do.