Touching Issues

Touching Issues

I read a comment by Emily (thoughty autie) on a post on Journeys with Autism recently that I completely identified with:

[…] if something brushes my arm, I have to rub the skin in the direction of shoulder to wrist; otherwise I still feel the thing that brushed me.

I have a number of issues with over-sensitivity to touch – this is not uncommon for people with ASD and I’ve mentioned it briefly in earlier posts. It’s because of these issues that I prefer not to be touched at all, although I do make the odd exception for something like a hug.

Any contact on my throat is a big no-no – that part of my body is far too sensitive. I can’t even wear a tight collar on a shirt because it would touch that area. The sensation of touch can persist for several minutes and I have to rub the affected area to relieve the feeling. It’s difficult to describe how uncomfortable it feels – the overstimulation is almost like a cross between a burning rash and applied pressure, as if something keeps pressing on my throat while my skin is crawling underneath. It makes me very tense and can push me into meltdown. Even thinking about it is enough to make me tense up and sends shivers down my back.

The “wrong” kinds of touch also trigger an over-reaction. These fall into categories: too light, too scratchy, too focused. A light brush against my skin sets it tingling where it was touched as if the contact was continuing, and I have to rub it – usually in the direction of the hairs – to make it stop. Anything that scratches I find uncomfortable, itchy or even painful – if somebody touches me with rough hands, if I come into contact with scratchy material (starched cotton, most wool), if I’m actually scratched by a thorn or something. In some cases I have a histamine reaction causing reddening or welts to appear – similar to an allergic response, although I don’t have any allergies that I’m aware of. And finally there is touch that is too focused, such as being pinched, prodded or poked. This causes anything from an acute pain to a dull throb at the spot that was poked – and again it can persists for several minutes. Rubbing the spot helps to a degree but I mostly just have to endure it until the sensation fades of its own accord. I even react this way to my own touch – although, being aware of what sets me off, I can usually avoid triggering an over-reaction. When I do set myself off it’s usually accidental, caused by my impaired coordination.

What I can stand – even enjoy in some circumstances – is touch over an area with moderate pressure. A hug is the perfect example of this although anything roughly hand-sized upwards is OK. I don’t like to be rubbed or stroked – caresses often put me on edge which is rather the opposite of the intended effect. I’ll often endure it because I’ve found that responding with “Don’t do that” gets misinterpreted but it’s not a pleasurable sensation.

I’ve also found that my sensitivity changes from day to day, often linked to where I currently lie on the stress scale. There are some days when almost any touch at all is too much to handle and I flinch and snap in response – as I mentioned above it can even trigger a meltdown. Other days I’m almost “normal” in my reactions – it depends on how well I can handle the tactile stimulation; whether or not it overloads me.