I have always had the need for physical attention. For me, physical attention entails hard hugs and snuggles. These gestures of physical attention from my family happen daily and sometimes even hourly. One issue that I have is that I hug too hard. The harder the squeeze, the better I feel. I need hugs at random times, including when I’m happy, bored, excited, or upset. As a teenager I still do all of this in private as I don’t want anyone seeing it. Yes, I understand the irony of posting this fact on my blog for the world to see! Besides hugging, other physical attention that I often seek include hard high-fives and strong handshakes (which happens to help me in the business world).
When I was younger, my “hard” hugs weren’t very “hard” to an adult. As I have grown up I have gotten stronger. Because of my strength, I often hug too hard for my parents and brother. I remember a few weeks ago when I squeezed my dad so hard that it actually hurt him. I do not know when I am hugging too hard. This is an obstacle for me that I am currently having a lot of trouble with. My strength can be overpowering not only to my parents but to my younger brother and a situation like this can become very dangerous, very quickly. My brother is awesome but isn’t very affectionate physically. As you can imagine, this creates a problem because I want physical attention and he doesn’t want to give it. My brother and I regularly get into verbal fights around this topic which is obviously not fun. We are pretty much polar opposites when it comes to physical affection. When my brother doesn’t want a hug I try to respect him but sometimes my sensory needs for physical contact override my gut feeling of doing the right thing.
My advice to parents that have kids like me with these sensory issues is to just give it to them! The longer your child has to wait to receive his or her physical affection, the more upset they may become. The need for immediate gratification is usually overwhelming in my experiences. I can’t do anything else until I get my sensory needs met. If you can, try to set a time where you can devote yourself even for just a few minutes to hugging and squeezing. When I am bored, hyper, or anxious, this form of attention helps me calm down and relax. This action may be an inconvenience for you and your plans but in the long run it will cause a lot less problems. Siblings also can give physical attention. If siblings have a good relationship this is a good tactic. Different people in the family can work together to meet these needs.
Physical attention is very important in my life and may be to the lives of your Autistic children or family members. There will be a time where habits like these may fade, but until then, you have to keep squeezing! While I prefer to get my sensory needs met through actual physical contact with people, there are tools that substitute human affection and work very well in my opinion. The first one is a weighted backpack which my mom used with me when I was little. I used to carry this around which acted as physical pressure. She used to fill my favorite backpack with heavy objects for me to carry around the house and when I was transitioning to and from school. The second one is a weighted vest. I have not used these but I wish that I did. I have heard that these weighted vests also act like the weighted backpacks. The vests can be customizable in size that will suit your child. On my first blog, I talked about the use of my heavy blankets. This is another great tool.
Physical pressure is one thing in my life that requires a lot of attention. Whether it’s having someone hug or squeeze me or having a weighted tool to take its place, this attention is needed in my life daily. If I do not get these sensory needs met, this becomes a HUGE issue for me and subsequently my entire family as well. Please never forget the importance of determining and then always meeting your Autistic child’s sensory needs!