Affection and Autism
Social/Emotional deficits are one of the three common domains that children on the spectrum or diagnosed with autism often struggle to understand. Emotions can be difficult to read or display. Some criticize people on the spectrum for their lack of personal and physical relationships. Other family and friends worry about relationships, emotions and love.
Teaching affection, giving those hugs and kisses is something that everyone in every culture learns. So, we have to think of our babies and children (probably some adults too) as their own culutre that has to learn how to show affeection and emotions in an appropriate way. The key is that we have to educate ourselves and then advocate for the best resources or ways to help teach our loved ones on the spectrum.
My son (age 5) is still essentially non-verbal. We are coming along though! He has a very calm and chill kid. The only times he seems to really get “mad” or “sad” or “frustrated?” is when he is trying to communicate a need/want and it’s not working. We took him to a social skills class for about three to six months, just one hour once a week. In the first six weeks he learned, mad, sad and happy! He could point to the picture card and respond to the question, “Which one is Max?”. He would pick happy, then he would smile big and laugh. Then he started to notice when I was mad at him! He would cry and point at me saying “MAD”.
We must also access the best therapy for our children. The right type of therapy and even scope of therapy. For example, there are different types of ABA. Max is practicing the Verbal Behavior Model of ABA, this is different than traditional ABA. Then even beyond is the right therapist. You have to have a loving and caring therapist that is great at their craft. We are seeing these benefits with our therapist. She is tough but she is kind and the school/clinic environment is welcoming.
I realized how important this topic really is when our son hugged my husband and I this weekend. It was on his terms without demands, prompts or suggestions. We were working on filling and setting up a new outdoor pool. He was watching us work and he came over and hugged each of us and ran back to his spot to watch and play. I have over the years realized that my son may never tell me that he loves me. He won’t do what my daughter does…say, “Mommy, I love you!”. However, he will let me know that he does in fact love me.
As friends and family, we have to understand and accept our children on the spectrum. That most of them will in their way tell us they love and appreciate us, we just need to listen and learn their language. My son now comes and asks for hugs and kiss. We started at night with bedtime hug and kiss. My son accepted mine but always requested a high-five. So, now we have bedtime hug, kiss and high-five. Even my daughter requests the high-five now! He will hold hands with other children, give hugs and make those special requests for affection throughout the days. We are proud of his continued growth and sharing.
Tips for teaching affection and love:
- educate ourselves
- advocate for resources
- access the best therapy/therapist
- understand and accept
- keep loving