I lost my job yesterday. As you can imagine,
I knew it would be hard for Sawyer to understand. In his mind, my bosses and coworkers were part of our family, and I knew he wouldn’t understand what was happening. Sure enough, when he got home from school and I told him I wasn’t going to be going back to my office anymore, there were lots of questions. I answered them as best as I could, and Sawyer could see that I was upset. All of a sudden, the questions stopped and the hugs came. My sweet boy knew what I needed, even if he didn’t have the right words to express how he felt; he knew his hugs would make me feel better. All night last night, he would come give me random hugs and ask if I was ok. ♥
Sawyer has always been such a loving, affectionate child. Even as a baby, when he couldn’t speak, he would randomly come over and lay his head against us or gently pat our arm or leg. As he got older and we began to see the signs of autism, one of his therapists remarked at how she was surprised that he was such an affectionate child. She said most of the children she saw were not overly affectionate, since sensory stimulation, social development issues, and lack of speech can make it hard for some autistic people to express affection and emotion. However, over the years, Sawyer has constantly shown that he experiences emotion deeply, and he is constantly hugging the people in his life- in fact, hugs and cuddles are two of his favorite things!
Some people with autism don’t like to be touched, so they may avoid hugging and kissing. Some people with autism, may not be very expressive, or they may have a blank expression on their face and this may cause people in their lives to think they don’t experience much emotion. However, autistic people can and do experience emotion- they just experience it much differently than most people do.
One amazing resource for parents of children with autism is COCO, an app that helps autistics express their emotions. The app helps autistic children to practice expressions related to emotion, as well as teaches them to mime certain actions that can help to express emotion in ways that make them feel comfortable and safe. The app is available on both the iTunes store and the Google Play store.
The trick is learning to understand how a child likes to express affection and emotion and meet them where they are. Don’t try to force hugs or kisses if a child isn’t comfortable with physical touch; it may actually be physically painful for them. Instead, maybe try kissing your fingertip and gently placing it on the tip of their nose or even using a sign or signal to show your child affection. Emotions and processing those can be overwhelming for autistic people, so it’s important to take the time to learn what makes an autistic person most comfortable, and learn their ways of expressing their affection and emotions.