Touching the Untouchable

Quite a common and misunderstood subject surrounding autism is the issue of physical contact.

Most autistic people cannot bare to be touched and recent pioneering research into why may explain. I did a bit of research, because I didn’t understand all of it and even now, still don’t. I’ve written a summary of research from Dr. Anis from a U.S Northwestern University which explains the fundamentals of Autism and also why Autism is more common in boys then girls.

Quick Biology: The deciding factor of whether a child is a Boy or a Girl is dependant on what X and Y chromosomes they receive from they’re mother. If the child has two X Chromosomes, it’s a girl. If the child has both an X Chromosome and a Y Chromosome, it’s a boy.
Autism is the result of the genetic mutation of the Female X Chromosome. As girls have two X Chromosomes, if one is mutated, the other can make up for the mutated gene (practically replace it) and the person can live a life only being a carrier of Autism. Of course, Autism can still affect girls, so it’s not always guaranteed that the mutated X gene is masked. It could even be that both are mutated. Boys on the other hand only have one X Chromosome. If it is mutated, there is no other X Chromosome to replace it, and therefore the boy will be affected by the mutation.
This mutation causes the sensory synapses in the brain to have delayed development which results in the ‘rewire’ of how they work, meaning they don’t work the same as they would if they had developed without the mutation.
(Source http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1250461?Why-autistic-people-avoid-hugs-loved-ones.html)

I hope the above makes sense to you.

Too many people misunderstand the withdrawal from physical contact as rudeness and bad behaviour, when in fact it is because the person cannot bare to be touched.

As I have mentioned in a previous post before, Dale has told me about Asperger’s and Physical Contact. At first, I was worried that I had overstepped a boundary that Dale didn’t have a choice on, it’s part of his genetics. However, he reassured me I’m a ‘Safe Person’ (someone who he can cope with touching). Meaning, I can enjoy my favourite hobby; cuddles with my boy.

This is going to sound fairly creepy, but when I watch Dale with other people, especially my younger brother who is quite ‘huge’, Dale does slightly withdraw when my brother hugs him. Sometimes, Dale will even ask my brother to ‘get off’, which because my brother doesn’t understand (and also tends not to listen when people ask him to get off when he’s hugging), thinks Dale is joking until I have to subtly try and hint for him to release Dale.

Putting Dale’s reaction to physical contact is perspective to other spectrum reactions; distressed rocking and even crying out, Dale deals with it quite well. 

I am quite curious at to the actual feelings Dale has when being touched by a non-safe person, and do want to enquire, but at the same time, I’m just happy that he’s okay with me cuddling him (and even sleeping on his shoulder). I’m also thankful that Dale is quite open about his Autism and is willing to inform me on all he knows.

(In my last post I unintentionally referred to Autism as a mental illness, which it is not, and thankfully Dale told me before I accidentally offended people. Dale knows me well enough in that way to know that I would never intentionally say something to offend someone).

To be honest, I’m not sure how’d I’d feel if Dale came to me tomorrow and told me I couldn’t hug him or hold his hand. I do try and be careful with my physical contact with him, following his lead and taking the cues from him so I know what he’s comfortable with. There have been a few instances where Dale has told me he likes a certain touch i.e stroking his arm with my fingers or stroking his neck, resting my hand on his knee. In other instances he’s told me when a certain touch isn’t cool with him like tickling (he will either tell me directly or I will notice him shy away and retract).

To be honest I am quite surprised how much ‘touch’ he tolerates. Which is another curiosity for me. Why can he tolerate mine and other ‘safe peoples’ touches but not other? Does even he know why? 

Dale is an amazing, intriguing man and I love discovering new things about him. He’s like a maze and I’ve been given free reign.


If you know, meet or come across an autistic person, try not to be judgemental on their reactions to you. I think I am quite lucky with Dale. Most of the time, his heart overrules his brain and that makes him a perfect man; but sometimes, even with Dale, the brain takes precedence and doesn’t allow room for deviation.

Don’t try and change them. Accept them. That’s who they are and how they were made. If they think something needs to change, you can be sure they’ll change it. They’re determined in that way.

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Author: Alli

Howdy! Artist | Illustrator | Designer |Photographer | Waitress What do ya know... I'm a round-house aspie lover!

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