Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dealing with touch sensitivity

((I'm taking a day off from posting about my story - the next part of it becomes rather emotional and I need time to sort it out before I share.  Thanks for your patience.))

Tactile sensitivity is one of those classic autism things.  The average person who knows very little about autism might know that those on the spectrum don't like to be touched and freak out at the smallest sensation.  Things that would never disturb someone without the disorder seem to come across like freight trains of overstimulation to an aspie or autist.

I'm pretty good with touch, at least better than I was as a young kid.  I still cut the tags out of a lot of clothing and am very particular about fit, but I can wear a much wider range of textures.  There are some of us that never get over textures and touch and it remains a major problem.  If you remain sensitive as you get older, it can present some unique challenges.

Some tips for adults dealing with tactile issues:

  • Touch from strangers in small places: Light touches spook me and I know they scare most others with AS as well.  At my school, where elevators are rampant, I often have to stand uncomfortably close to others who will brush up against me.  Just remember that they're most often totally unaware of how this affects you.  If you can get away or move to another side of the elevator, do so.  If not, take a breath and watch the floors count down, or distract yourself with some kind of stimulation.  These people aren't picking on you, they just don't know what they're doing.
  •  Touch from friend/family/significant others: These people are probably much more aware of your problems.  Since they're not random, it's much more appropriate to tell them that they're making you uncomfortable.  Try to count to three or five before you speak if you're really upset and clearly state what's wrong, like, "Could you please move back a bit, you're getting too close and making me uncomfortable".  Other times it's easier to non verbally communicate what you feel.  If my boyfriend was stroking the same place on my arm too much and it was getting to me, I would put my hand over his and hold it.  This is a nice, gentle way to say that you've had enough.  Other times you can take a step back or move your hand.
  • Touch at work (Coworkers):  Work is one of those complicated places where you have to deal with the same people on a regular basis and you have to be very careful about acting in a manner that wouldn't make you an office outcast.  Sometimes it's good to make others aware of your problems right away through a simple explanation of what AS is and that you like distance.  The word autism doesn't even have to come into the mix.
  • Touch at work (Customers): Customers can make any job difficult.  I work in retail when I'm not in school and was often nearly overstimulated by the environment alone.  Keep in mind that people come from different cultures and some may naturally want to stand a little too close for comfort or touch your arm or shoulder.  It's best to figure out a game plan for dealing with customers before a situation takes a turn for the worse - ask a manager or some form of superior what you can do when you can't handle a customer or if you're becoming overwhelmed.  Think ahead to avoid a major problem!
  • Environmental considerations:  Other people aren't the only problem - the world itself can sometimes feel like it's against an aspie.  Take precautions and innovate to avoid the problems.  A troublesome air vent over your desk might be able to be fixed or changed if you talk to maintenance, and a cushion or jacket put on a seat might make it more bearable.
  • Clothing:  I talked about this issue in a previous post.  If you're required to wear a uniform which is uncomfortable, think about acceptable ways to make it better.  Could you wear an undershirt of a material that you like, or leggings under scratchy pants?  Make sure to know your dress code and ask questions.  Human Resources or whatever department handles dress code at your work or school can answer question and may be able to help you find something acceptable if you make them aware of your issues.
Tactile issues suck, but with planning and awareness they can get better!

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