Problems Giving & Receiving Affection in Kids on the Spectrum

"My high-functioning autistic son refuses to be touched most of the time. He says he doesn't like it. It's really hard to have a child that you can't hug, kiss or hold. Is it common for children with the disorder to avoid showing and receiving affection?"

Although it can happen, it is rare for children with ASD or High-Functioning Autism to "refuse" to be touched at all times - in all situations. However, it is fairly common for them to have tactile sensory issues, which may make them avoid certain types of physical contact with others on occasion.

BUT... this really has nothing at all to do with the inability - or lack of desire - to show or receive affection. Kids on the autism spectrum are the most loving and affectionate people I know! So please don't make the mistake of taking your son's lack of interest in physical contact as a personal insult.

One of the most pervasive myths that surround ASD is that a youngster who has it will never show affection and can’t accept getting affection from anyone. There have been hundreds of stories of parents taking their child to a psychologist and the doctor telling the parents something like, "Your child can’t possibly have an Autism Spectrum Disorder because he gives you a hug now and then."

While this assessment is incorrect, studies have shown that autistic children do process sensory touch differently than a "typical" child, and that this is where the myth that young people on the spectrum don’t like to be touched comes from.

Autism and the way it affects kids really runs the gamut from light to severe. An excellent point to remember when dealing with a child on the spectrum is that every one is different and will react to almost everything differently.

Here are some tips for showing your child affection:

1. For a few kids on the spectrum, a simple, random hug can be sensory overload. They can become agitated, upset and even violent if they are touched without prior warning. You will probably need to have a trial and error approach when it comes to hugging and touching your son. Some methods may be responded to in a positive way, other ways won’t be. You just have to try and see.

2. If you think your son needs a hug, instead of rushing into his personal space and just taking one, speak to him, bend down to his level and open your arms. Smile and let him know that he is loved and see what the response is. If he doesn't come running in for a hug, don’t be offended. It may just not have been the right time.

3. If your son is too sensitive to hugs or touches to show affection, you can try positive reinforcement in addition to hand singles. Things like a simple thumbs up accompanied by a smile and some positive comments can let him know he is loved and what he did was good. You can also offer him a chance to hug during these situations - and he might just take you up on it.

4. Make sure everyone is on the same page. If you are starting to make progress on getting your son to be more affectionate, you don’t need a sibling, teacher or grandparent who doesn’t know or understand your son’s boundaries messing up all of your hard work. If you’ve begun to implement an affection program with him, make sure everyone who would possibly try to hug or touch him knows the rules.

Consistency and repetition are crucial to kids on the spectrum, and this applies to a situation like this as well. Trying to figure out a puzzling condition like autism can be a lifelong challenge. For many moms and dads, the affection issue may be the biggest. But with patience and learning to go by your son’s cues and not your own, you will be able to connect with him in a deep and meaningful way.


•    Anonymous said... 7 yr old- that was a characteristic that always puzzled me before we starting looking into "reasons why" he behaved the way he does. Helps put things into perspective a bit and not take it personal. However, with time, he has learned to handle hand shakes and an occasional hug or kiss on the top of his head. But I do like that portion in the article where it's not that they don't want it...they just can't handle the sensory overload. It's very clear he does wants that attention...it takes conscious effort to change our way of showing appreciation, love, etc with C. but it's worth it in the long run!

•    Anonymous said... It's probably really hard for the child to have a parent that wants to hug, kiss or hold him too.

•    Anonymous said... jp doest like light touches when he was younger he didn't even like the wind touching him so he would only wear long pants and long sleeves no matter how hot outside with a lot of work and time 7 years he now wears shorts and t shirts and asks for hugs or should I say tight squeezes

•    Anonymous said... My 10yr old never gives hugs either and hardly ever smiles either but when he does its so joyful

•    Anonymous said... My daughter is the same way. She doesn't like physical touch. It is very hard while my son also Aspergers like touch but only when he seeks it out first.

•    Anonymous said... My some does not like soft fluffy things or touched soft. He says it hurts. It have learned that he likes deep pressure hugs and touch on holding his hand or shoulder. Also taught him to ask for "transformer hugs" I put him in my lap facing out and hug his shoulders snug, then put pressure on his head, then he pushes upward, then do the same to each joint wrist to elbow, elbow to shoulder and same with legs until he tells me he feels better. I love him so, and glad I am figuring out his puzzle pieces.

•    Anonymous said... My son is nine and now I can hug him and he will hug us back sometimes but he still does not like to be touched by anyone other than us...and I think he just tolerates us so he doesn't hurt our feelings because he has been told so many times that mommies like to hug their children because we love them so much.

•    Anonymous said... My son likes "tight" hugs as well- took me a long time to learn what he deems "affection" Sometimes he will just come up and sniff me and smile, and that's affection from him!

•    Anonymous said... My son likes deep pressure and hugs...however, we had him in karate for about a year and he didn't like that. We thought he did but he got to a point of hiding in the bathroom whenever it was time for the one on one sparring. I finally dropped the karate.

•    Anonymous said... My son was like that for a long time. He wouldn't let you kiss or hug him or hold his hand. He might let you put your arm around him or sit in your lap, but that was when he was sick or hurt. My mom said when I was a baby, I didn't want to be held and she would have to stand next to the crib and hold my bottle for me. I still find, in alot of situations, that I don't really want to be touched too much.

•    Anonymous said... Was your child diagnosed with sensory integration disorder? My 7 yo wasnt as sensitive to some aspies are to textures or touch. We did the brushing therapy where we used soft baby brushes when he woke up. We brushed him up and down his back and arms and legs. He slso was a tip toer when he walked. He eventually grew out of that with the help of occupational therapy. Like Marcia, my son responded to compression hugs too and uses a compression vest while in school or therapy.

•    Anonymous said... We have two children on the spectrum, one totally dislikes hugs or hugging, the other will literally hang off me 24/7 if she could!

•    Anonymous said... yes my 2 grown a/s daughters the same,and my a/s hubby not much different, its sad.

•    Anonymous said... My 10 year old aspie,is forever asking for hugs.It's like a form of therapy for him!I'm thankful it's not the other way around.My heart goes out to you.

•    Anonymous said... My 6 year old grandson loves to cuddle and have hugs. Not all Aspies do not like touch. Maybe take it slow.

•    Anonymous said... My daughter is 15. She can go both ways. Sometimes she doesn't like to be touched and other times she asks me to hug her and kiss on her. I let it be up to her or if I want to hug and kiss her I ask her first so I don't upset her if she didn't want me to.

•    Anonymous said... My now 16yr old has never liked to be touched. In honesty I wish I had of zoned in more with therapy regarding this as now has impacted on the mother/son bond. It's sad.

•    Anonymous said... My son doesn't like hugs either. He is not very affectionate the most I get out of him is I love you but it's good enough for me.

•    Anonymous said... some do some don't, it can be too much of a sensory overload for them.

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