People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may have certain behavioral challenges when it comes to sensory situations. For some children with autism, this includes feeling particularly sensitive to hugs. Here’s what to know about hugging and children with autism.
Why Children With Autism May Not Like Being Hugged
Many children with autism may have sensory processing disorder which makes them very sensitive to certain senses, including touch. This is why some children with autism simply do not like being touched in any manner.
Many children with autism, even those with high-functioning autism, have difficulty learning to engage in everyday human interaction. They may avoid interactions or eye contact or even resist parental attention, hugs, or cuddling.
There has been more research into the reasoning behind this, but many times it results in people with autism being defensive against touch. The good news is, even if you have a touch-defensive child, there are other ways for children with autism to communicate through physical touch and fill in that emotional void some children may be feeling if they don’t like hugs.
Alternatives to Hugging
While traditional hugs may make certain children with autism very uncomfortable, there are certain alternatives to hugging that you can try. Here are some of the most popular ones.
This cute little idea was introduced on the popular kid’s show Sesame Street by Julia, the first Muppet with Autism.
To do a starfish hug, simply place your hands, and palms together, while spreading out your fingers and touching fingertips. It gives the sense of the ritual of hugging and the emotion behind it but limits the amount of actual touching.
The “Elephant Hug” is a move where move your arms by your nose like an elephant trunk while touching each other’s fingertips. It is another fun move that will incite a child’s sense of imagination.
These types of hugs are less overwhelming while still allowing the healing sensation of touch and the comfort that a hug can bring during a difficult time.
High fives are another fun and easy replacement for hugs. When you want to comfort or encourage a child with autism, who gets uncomfortable and overwhelmed by hugs, swap out the ritual with a high-five. It’s easy, quick, and involves only a moment of touch.
Plus, it’s an easy, high-energy way to show encouragement to children who are overwhelmed by long hugs.
Handshakes aren’t just for formal situations, many people with autism feel more comfortable with the act of shaking hands instead of hugging. Shaking hands only involves hands instead of the entire body and can be a more acceptable form of touch.
What To Do If Your Child is Feeling Hug Deprived?
While many children with autism feel averse to hugging, some children with autism like to be hugged. Some children can swing the opposite way and want so many hugs that they feel hug deprived when they aren’t getting enough.
If you feel as though you can’t keep up with a child’s daily hug quota, here are ways to make children feel like they are being hugged, even when you can’t physically wrap your arms around them.
Weighted blankets have become a popular resource for kids and adults of all ages as these blankets provide an even, allover feeling of “touch” or pressure that can help increase comfort and soothe anxiety.
If your child with autism feels instantly soothed and calm by the feeling of a hug, then weighted blankets are a great option and an easy way to help teach kids to self-soothe. When purchasing a weighted blanket, make sure to pay close attention to the weight.
There are special weighted blankets just for kids that are lighter than adult blankets. Certain adult blankets may be too heavy for children and be uncomfortable or suffocating for little ones. This is why you should only use children’s weighted blankets for children.
Teaching Self Hugging
Self-hugging is another technique that can help children learn to soothe themselves whenever they need a hug. It’s simple, tell your child that whenever they feel lonely or like they need an extra hug simply wrap their arms around themselves for a nice big hug.
Encourage kids to take a nice, big soothing deep breath while they do this. They can also pat themselves on the back, close their eyes or even rock back and forth to comfort themselves.
Cuddling With Pets or Stuffed Animals
If you can’t be there to give your child with autism a hug, then you can encourage them to cuddle with pets or stuffed animals. Stuffed animals are the perfect toy for your child to hug and snuggle up with as they can easily squeeze and hug their stuffed animals as much as they want.
If you have a pet, you can also teach your children to gently hug their pets when they need a little affection from someone. However, before encouraging your children to go and hug their pets whenever they need, make sure that you are teaching them about animal boundary language and to interact safely with your pets when they need love.
Using Other Senses to Distract
If your child is particularly in-tune with their senses and wants hugs as part of that—you can also teach them to use their other senses to distract from the need to get a hug. Here is how to encourage kids to use other senses to distract from feeling like they aren’t getting enough hugs.
This may be using touch to rub a favorite blanket, listening to a song they love or singing to themselves, looking at a picture of someone or something that soothes them, petting their pet, or anything else that uses their senses.
Hugging can be a hot button for many kids with autism. It can also be something that children with autism get particularly attached to. No matter which way your child leans, it is important to have tools in your arsenal to help your child have more balanced feelings about hugging.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.
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