“Heartbreaking” — That is the word some people use to describe their failed efforts in showing love to children with autism. Parents, teachers and caretakers of autistic children may wonder how to reach out to a child that seems withdrawn, unreachable and disinterested in showing affection.
It is true that many autistic children have a problem when it comes to affection but it would be false to say that all autistic children cannot give nor receive affection. This is a myth. An autistic child processes sensory touch differently from a normal child. Therefore, autistic children can be affectionate, but it would be on their own terms.
So, if you are wondering how you can be affectionate towards an autistic child, here are some suggestions for you:
- Seek first to understand How autism impacts a person’s life and ability to function ranges from light to severe. You could say that autism affects a person in a wide spectrum of ways. They do not all react the same way. The way they react to almost everything can be different for each child. Some don’t mind bear hugs. Some cannot even stand having their arm held. Some are able to be touched by close family members but not strangers or friends. Through trial and error, you have to learn what kind of hug or touch is acceptable to them.
- Give warnings before you touch them. An autistic child who is oversensitive to touch may become agitated, upset and even violent if touched unexpectedly. So always approach the child from the front and give a warning before touching them. For example, tell the child you will be carrying him into the car seat. Don’t just grab him.
- Don’t force hugs on them. If you feel an autistic child could use a hug, get down to their level and invite them with open arms. Talk to the child and let them decide if they want a hug or not. Do not violate their personal space but rather let them invade your space. If they refuse your offer, don’t feel offended. It’s probably not what they need at that time.
- Try other ways to show affection. Hugs and touches are not the only to show affection. You can give verbal encouragement and positive comments coupled with a loving smile. You could also use hand gestures like giving a thumbs up. Affection could also be in the form of doing something nice for them or giving them a gift they will appreciate.
Every autistic child is different. Building up that bond takes patience. If your child has a problem with affection, don’t be disheartened. Learn more about autistic behaviors so you don’t hold on to unrealistic expectations. Communicate with other parents that have children with autism to see how they have coped with the issue, then experiment the different ways to see what works for you. Be positive and think of it as learning to speak a different kind of love language with your autistic child.