The good and the bad of autism hypersensitivity – focus on touch.
Autism hypersensitivity is something that drains our energy. We don’t have the filters that non-autistic people have, so it just all comes in whether we want it to or not. It’s a lot to deal with as it’s happening all the time. This means that we must modify our life and behaviour in order to manage and accommodate this situation. In this blog I’m going to focus on how I’m personally affected by the sensation of touch.
I wash my hands around 30 – 50 times a day. This is because if I feel anything on my hands that is remotely sticky, I can’t stand it! There are other reasons I have to wash my hands as well and this will be explained in my ‘smell’ post (coming soon).
If I have to share things with someone else, I am aware that everything I touch will add some kind of sensory residue onto my hands. I know there’s bound to be some toothpaste on the outside of the tube. The marmite jar inevitably has a bit of marmite on it. The same goes for cheese packets, yoghurt cartons, honey jars, etc. Even if I can feel a tiny sensation of this, a full soap and water wash and a proper dry is necessary. When I’m cooking, I have to wash my hands each time I change ingredient. My favourite breakfast–toast with butter, then pesto, then goat’s cheese, then sliced beetroot, and with a sprinkle of salt–involves me washing my hands at least five times. I often also wash the jars and containers as I go as well.
If someone touches me or the furniture, and they haven’t been as vigilant as me with their hand washing, I’ll undoubtedly pick up the residue of whatever they’ve touched and then I have to get up and wash my hands again. It was a real struggle when my child was young! Autism hypersensitivity affects every aspect of life, including parenting.
Wet paper, wood, or cardboard–I can’t touch it, even the thought of it gives me the shudders. Wooden lollipop sticks were so difficult as a child. I had to be so careful to not accidently touch the stick with my mouth! Drying my hands on paper towels has the same (fingernails on a blackboard) effect. So I end up using my own clothes to dry my hands if paper towels are my only option. Using loo paper does the same… I must be careful to dab not wipe. Ha ha! Autism hypersensitivity gets into all the nooks and crannies! Wet wipes are my new best friend. Hurrah for those!
Writing this is so difficult as I’m experiencing the feelings with each description. But I’m dedicated to the cause, so I’ll co,ntinue…
Wet body and dry clothes–no! If I’m hot and likely to sweat, I have to be naked at home. This is one of the reasons I don’t like going out on warm days. If I get too hot, I might sweat and then feel awful because of the sensation. If this happens, I have to take all my clothes off the minute I walk through my front door. I can’t do it quickly enough.
The only thing I can stand on my body, if I’m wet, is old fashioned towelling. Don’t give me any of those microfibre towels, oh no! A towelling rub down after a bath is ok, but then I have to air dry for at least an hour before I can get dressed.
When I was little, I used to hate having to get dressed after swimming at school for this reason. I was always the last one to finish getting ready. It was a mystery to me why the other kids managed to dry themselves so quickly. Now I know that they weren’t drying to my level, they didn’t need to.
Any fabric on my body other than wool or cotton is a big no. I only have one wool item that I’ve had for 10 years. Everything else is cotton–t-shirt type material to be precise. And to be even more precise, it has to be second-hand t-shirt material with all the scratchy labels cut out. I love ‘lived in’ clothes so much more than new clothes. Even if it’s not me who’s lived in them. They are just so much softer and more comfortable. So I annoy my friends by asking them to give me their old clothes. Most of the clothes I own are at least 10 years old. In fact, the older they are, the more I enjoy them. It’s a good job I’m not into fashion.
Lumps and bumps… ugh!
My mum used to liken me to the princess from ‘The Princess and the Pea’ fairy tale. Basically, I can feel any tiny imperfection. A bit of scrunched up sock inside my shoe feels like a sharp stone, and I have to stop and rearrange everything. A fold in the pillowcase makes it impossible for me to comfortably rest my head–I have to smooth it out before I can relax and go to sleep. Crumbs in the bed feel as though my bed is full of rocks–I never eat in bed for this reason.
If my partner gets into my bed (this happens only when I’m feeling like I can tolerate close physical proximity or touch) he has to take all his clothes off first (outside my room) and wipe his feet on the carpet before he’s safe to climb in–I don’t want any food residue entering my safe soft space. He is very understading of my autistic needs. We have separate rooms and he can do what he wants in his own space. To be fair though, he never complains about having to be naked in my bed. Ha!
A good thing about touch hypersensitivity is that I probably feel pleasurable touch more deeply than non-autistic people. I spend a lot of time gently stroking my skin. This is part of my stimming behaviour, but it also deserves a mention here as well. When I’m relaxing, I lightly stroke my face, earlobes (try it), neck, arms, legs, and chest. Just the lightest of touch, it feels like a whisper on my skin, but the sensation goes deep into my body and I feel it right down to my toes. It helps me to relax.
I absolutely adore receiving a powerful head massage, I go into a deep trance state instantly, the effect of this is amazing to me.
Smooth things are incredibly pleasing to me. I love collecting and feeling stones, but they have to be perfectly round or egg shaped. I have a collection of these. I wear a polished piece of Australian opal around my neck and I find myself stroking it all the time. It’s delicious. And then, of course, there’s my cat–the smoothest of smooth things. The barely-there softness of her fur is so compelling to me and I feel it in my bones when I’m stroking her. It’s as if the sensation receptors reach so deep inside me that is creates a feedback loop of malleable pleasure all over my body.
So… I wouldn’t say the good outweighs the bad, but it certainly compensates somewhat.
Please feel free to comment with your own experiences of autism hypersensitivity. There will be posts covering each one of the senses soon. I’d love to hear from you.