The girls had open arms, but I thought they just wanted two high fives, but they came up to me and gave me a big hug. This happened a lot, and almost every time I was very surprised and would just freeze. I knew they they were just being friendly and kind, but it was very uncomfortable for me.
I was used to receiving hugs from family members and that was pretty much it, but hugs from other people? “WHAT IS GOING ON?!” I said in my head. Being touched was a huge thing growing up. There were rules that I needed to follow. It was strictly forbidden because it’s not appropriate, and I needed to keep my hands to myself unless I’m introducing myself and shaking their hand. That was it. Those were the rules. So when someone I didn’t know gave me a hug, I wanted to be kind and not reject the offer, matter of fact I welcomed it.
But in my head it just felt very weird and odd and I didn’t want to break the rule because it’s not appropriate to touch others, but when someone else does that to me, it was complete chaos in my head. Not a meltdown at all by any means, but I’ve always been a hand shaker which is my personal preference. The way I see it is that it’s best when others do the hugging and I accept the offer.
Before I started writing this book it got me thinking about the topic of touch because it’s a major sensory issue for individuals who are autistic and I wanted to share my experience. I always wanted to follow that one important rule, but the thoughts still remained. I remember teachers and parents would say to me that “if you have any questions, ask away” and most of my sentences were mostly questions. So I asked them about the whole hugging thing from other kids my age, and the answer was that everyone is different when it comes to companionship. Hugging can be a way to show support, comfort, and love. And other times its just a way of saying I like you.
I learned from video examples that a hug is not always the most socially appropriate way to greet a friend, but instead a high five, fist bump, or handshake. The world is full of different etiquettes ranging from bowing to kissing someone on the cheek. All these different forms of greetings have always fascinated me.
Once I learned how to master the hug with others by social cues, I felt like I won the day! To me, it was a big deal not because it felt good to have that kind of appreciation and because of having autism, there were so many times where I thought I was different and so I stayed different. But when there were moments like these, it became a reminder that I have a place here, and they wanted me to stay.
To me, when it comes to autism, having others share similar experiences, we can learn to better understand each other even by the smallest and the sweetest of actions.