This post is part of Project: Inception, written ~8 years ago. It has been untouched from its original, pseudonymous, form. It is also part of the larger “farewell” tour and countdown as I turn-off this blog and head to the metaverse where I will live out the rest of my wonderful days. I hope to see you there!
I’ve read many times over now that some autistics are incredibly sensitive to touch, so much so that it is literally painful for them to even wear clothes let alone have another person touch them. Thankfully, I do not suffer from those issues to the extreme but I do know without a shadow of a doubt that I do have have issues with touch and sensitivity in particular areas of my life.
For example, from as far back as I can remember I didn’t like people touching me. Even my mother who loved to give comprehensive backrubs to all of her five children I was the one who squirmed and wanted to be left alone. It didn’t feel “good” or “comforting” – it felt as if something was crawling all over my skin with a touch of charcoal and set off a frenzy of paranoia. It’s a bit hard to describe but I still get it when my wife accidentally touches the back of my neck or attempts to snuggle a bit. Sorry, I’m just not interested.
I understand that this was (and still is) a bit of a disappointment – I understand intellectually the idea that physical intimacy and touch is an important part of the human experience and human condition. I watch it in movies all the time and I understand how it can communicate sometimes more powerfully than words. But it’s not how I can communicate and it’s not the way that I ever wish to communicate. Even a hug is an awkward experience.
I remember being hired for the Chief Technology Officer role at a local company and instantly was required to be highly relational with everyone. This particular culture was a “brofest” – in other words, it was like a grownup version of the High School locker room where longer-than-normal full-frontal hugs and slaps on the ass were a common and daily occurrence. I knew myself well enough to know that despite this incredibly strange environment the “potential” benefits of this opportunity outweighed some of the difficulties I was most likely to engage with. So, I said “Yes” to the job offer and clenched my teeth as I walked back into that proverbial locker room.
At one point early on I had to share explicitly with the CEO that I “don’t do hugs” and that it would be nice, if possible, to communicate that globally with the organization so as to not cause any harm or misunderstanding. At first this was interpreted as somewhat of a joke but I was dead-serious. Naturally, there was some confusion and for a while I had to reiterate, clumsily at times, that I just am not ”hugger” – this was embarrassing for everyone involved and it ultimately was became one of many signals that this job was not the one for me. It barely lasted a few months and thank goodness as I quickly realized that the leadership was incredibly shady, inexperienced, and immature. The wrong “culture fit”? Without question.
But this one experience really helped me understand how fundamental touch is to the relational development and the creation of relational equity not to mention being a part of reciprocity. It clearly showed me that I would never fully understand (nor want to understand) this dynamic and that my own social engagement would necessarily require a different perspective and a different angle of approach.
There are other quirks that I have that have been confirmed in other aspies as well, like wearing certain particular clothes (and being very particular about those clothes), certain areas of my body where touch is bearable while others being unbearable, the fact that I’d much rather sleep entirely naked than wear any layers whatsoever. This, naturally, means that the sheets and covers have to be just right as well as the thermostat as I’m hyper-sensitive to temperatures and air conditions. And yes, I get super-cranky when I don’t have things just right. I’m the guy with a space heater in the summer and who prefers to wear nothing but boxers in the dead of winter, depending on the houses’ overall climate. Needless to say, I’m not the easiest person to live with!
But my wife has compromised and helped me create solutions that work. In return, on occasion, I allow the random snuggle as we watch some idiotic TV show about the “real world” as captured through high definition cameras. Reality TV is one of the stupidest forms of entertainment. I have learned, though, that sometimes it’s more about just “hanging” with my spouse and spending shared time together that matters more than what we are actually watching – that took me a long time to figure out but it finally “clicked” one day. Yes, those neuro-synapses in my brain are indeed constructing bridges that were once non-existent.
And of course, these small things can make a home a happy one which can make all the difference when you’re living 24/7 with an aspie creative (with OCD, anxiety disorders, ADHD, chronic depression, and more)!