Hugs & Kisses…that’s one of the things we love about babies & little kids, right? Especially us parents. K was an affectionate child, but always full of boundless energy and curiosity she didn’t sit still long enough to really get a good cuddle. A is my cuddler. She is always in my lap, hanging on me, wanting to be held by me, hugging and kissing me. And I love it!
M never wanted much to do with anything as an infant. She was a disgruntled baby. As a toddler and preschooler she would sometimes give hugs to certain people, and she would tolerate a tight hug for a minute. She would never give kisses and hated to be kissed. Light touches, whether on purpose or accidental, made her scream and fall apart crying at times. This, along with her extremely rigid need for routine, were the things that first brought the word “autism” into the list of possibilities.
It is pretty painful to be rejected by your child. M would not let me cuddle her, kiss her, sing to her, or any of the things I so wanted to do. She really just wanted to be left alone. But when it came to the sensory aspect of light touches and being sensory over responsive, the OT for the county school district helped me really see it from M’s viewpoint. This is how she explained it:
Imagine you are walking down an alley in an unfamiliar city after dark, and you are lost. Something brushes your leg and you jump, maybe scream. Your heart is pounding. Then you look down and see that it is a cat, and you are able to slowly calm down. If the same thing were to happen on your own street during the day, you wouldn’t worry at all. Or if it were to happen again your brain would know “oh, it’s the cat”. But M is ALWAYS in the dark alley lost, and every time the cat touches her it is the first time. Her brain doesn’t acclimate to sensory experiences and begin to register them as “normal” the way ours do.
Pretty intense, huh? I sure felt a lot more sorry for her and a lot less sorry for myself.
After a year or so of OT, M became better. She will sometimes give kisses to her dad and I. Sometimes she will accept a kiss. Hugs are still quick and tight but she rarely melts down at a light touch anymore. I am so glad she doesn’t live in that sensory dark alley all of the time anymore. She still has a lot of anxiety and rigid thinking, but we are working on one thing at a time, to help her feel more happy and comfortable in her body and in the world.