He’s So Affectionate!

He’s so affectionate! Those words were said about my son. Mine. The don’t touch me, why are you hugging me, Tazmanian, that I gave birth to. Those aren’t words often spoken about a kid with autism combined with ADHD. But after viewing a short video of my son pleading for a Panera Chocolate Chipper, a commenter made just that stated observation. And it resonated.

Now, I’ve struggle with that for years. I could not understand why he pushes me away. Let’s put that into present terms… I refuse to understand why he pushes me away. Even until now, his hugs involve him placing both open palms on my person (you know, the double-handed universal STOP sign. What? That’s not a thing? Just him? Hm…) as he leans his body in to accept my gigantuous squeeze.

Maybe it’s my depression and absolute need for touch. Like dude, love begets love, man. Get over here and hug me.

Mom guilt was at an all time high when he was about a year old. I knew that I loved him. Come on. He’s mine. That’s automatic. Right? But, fact was, sometimes I wasn’t sure. “Come gimme a hug buddy. Kiss mommy.” That’s a thing. Yes. It is. And it echoed all day in our house.

I expressed these feelings to a social worker at preschool and not only was I referred to therapy for crying, I was reprimanded and told to respect his wishes of not wanting to be touched.

What the whaaaat?

Lady, he doesn’t like to talk either. Are we going to respect that too?

I was emotionally perplexed. My son and I were at different ends of the emotional spectrum of life. And I was being made to feel guilty for trying to win him over.

But sure thing, after I mentioned this again to another person, it was confirmed that I should respect his wishes under the rational of sensory overload and possible pain.

I surrendered. I caved. I fell into hopelessness, envisioning my son, isolated, mutually and willfully removed from socialization. And I thought … Dang, he’s never getting a girlfriend.

But who wants to inflict pain?

But by golly, if it’s painful then I don’t want to be this ginormous syringe injecting him “Q4 hours.”

And so the back and forth fight went on in my mind. I was stressed.

It didn’t take long. I gloriously failed the first few days of “respecting his wishes.” Has no one read the plethora of studies on the need for babies to be touched? Or am I just needy?

I certainly look to our professionals for guidance, but I began to question everything.

Aren’t there sensory gyms to help kids get over sensory issues? Aren’t there feeding therapies, paid for by insurance, to help kids get over texture issues? Isn’t there ABA for autism? And who on earth respects the wishes of a toddler?! Boy, I said sit down!

I soon started my own home grown, tailored to Nolan, Hug Therapy.

I figured, if he can sit in a noisy class with 5 other out-of-control special kids surrounded by walls plastered with every kind of pattern and design geared to the whole purpose of learning behaviors that do not come naturally and then going to the sensory room to help him sort out his “feeling” (ha, l love that one) then I will be relentless at de-sensitizing him to hugs.

I got no where with that. He hugged me like a cold potato.

Sure it was for personal gains. I know that I love the little tyrant ripping my house to shreds but one hug makes it all worthwhile. And of course it was also for his gain because the world loves hugs and I’m trying to matriculate him there.

So, I thought of how to further inflict my will on this poor unsuspecting child. (Oh come on! We all do it. There’s a vitamin or 2 tucked into that chocolate milk. The kid never asked for riboflavin!)

So at nights, when he was nice and sleepy, we snuggled. It was the only time he would settle into a lap. With the possible the exception of 103 fever. (I sneakily liked those hugs too).

Soon, it was morning snuggles and sneaky little blanket playtime on the bed with a quick hug.

It’s the same idea behind “Gimme bah!” He learned that. Bah! As in kisses. And we got all the kisses we wanted. We simple had to ask. None volunteered themselves.

So “Gimme hug” was next. He got to chose. And he did. Open palmed and pushing back but he did. And he would come in for a hug and boom, your second is up and he’s gone.

It’s been 3 or more years since I started Hug Therapy. And It worked – ish! After a while, he was climbing EVERYONE! Non-discriminantly. I may have had a few teacher notes about it.

But he’s 6 now and in that videotaped request for a cookie, he ran over to his sister, Natalie, cupped her lower face in both his palms, looked her in the eyes and said “another cookie!”. And when another cookie didn’t arrive stat, he hugged his big sister, snuggly resting his head on her neck, while sadly saying “cookie is broken.”

He got another cookie though and I got another victory.

(And, yes, we are still working on sentence content. The cookie is not broken but nice talking buddy. 😉)


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Author: Adventures in Medicine, Autism and So Much More

Internist | Motivational Speaker | Blogger | Light-Heartedly Addressing Heavy Topics | My Ideas | Lively Family #autismmom #Harvardwriters #SoMeDocs

2 thoughts on “He’s So Affectionate!”

  1. Hi Doctor Ann,
    When you shared that sensory over load and possible pain comes from the hugs you so desired. That stuck out to me.
    Your love, mother’s intuition and spark of genius led you to “hug therapy”. I for one am happy you implemented it cause I’m always stealing kisses and giving him big hugs! Should I continue sneaking them or do they still cause him discomfort?
    Aunty hug o lot


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