I tried to choke back tears but when that was no longer possible, I sobbed quietly to myself. In a matter of seconds John paused the movie. “What’s wrong?” he inquired. We were watching “Temple Grandin” which chronicles the life of its namesake “an autistic woman who became an unlikely hero to America’s cattle industry—and to autistic people everywhere,” as explained by the official movie synopsis. We had just watched a scene where Temple’s mother was leaving her at a boarding school, when Temple’s mother tried to hug her Temple shied away and resisted. “It makes me sad and scared to think of a day when Caroline might not find comfort in a hug,” I managed between sobs. And John’s response demonstrates one of the reasons I love him so, “Kacie, you don’t like to be touched.” Hmmm, he makes a good point, an obvious point. I proceed to amend my previous statement, “Point well made. I guess what I am feeling is twofold: First, I don’t want Caroline to be in a constant state of angst about whether people are going to touch her; and second, self-interest, rightly understood, I want Caroline to find comfort in my hugs.”
This one scene led me down a path of introspective self-discovery that forced to the surface a new awareness that I had been suppressing. I hoped that by exploring my intense desire for people to respect my personal space (with few notable exceptions) and the equally strong and antagonistic desire for Caroline to be comforted by my touch I would not only grow as a person but I would be better suited to provide Caroline comfort in a way that was meaningful to her.
Caroline currently loves when I hug her because I make hugging a sensory filled experience that involves throwing her in the air or swinging her between my legs. My fear of Caroline not wanting to be hugged or touched is rooted in the understanding that, “there is no single behavior that is always typical of autism and no behavior that would automatically exclude an individual child from a diagnosis of autism” but that many autistic people do not like to be touched. This fear is compounded by the fact that I don’t recall a time when Caroline has initiated or requested a hug. The best way I have learned to comfort Caroline is by distracting with her with a song or one of our many inside jokes.
When my ladies are hurt or sick my heart aches—with Vivian a hug or snuggling is a reciprocated act offering mutual comfort—this is not the case with Caroline. People with autism spend a lot of time in their own world, one of the diagnostic criteria deals with a decreased or inability to share joy with others. Despite Caroline’s decreased ability to share her joy, she brings a tremendous amount of joy to everyone in her life. Caroline is infectiously happy, I can’t help but to be happy when she is around. I have decided that Caroline does not have a decreased ability to share joy but rather she just shares it differently. And if Caroline shares her joy by being infectiously happy, I should be able to find comfort in by ability to calm her regardless of means.
Do you think it is selfish that I am concerned that one day Caroline will not want to be hugged, especially given all that she deals with on a daily basis? When I proactively worry about things like this, I feel like I am not only being selfish, but I am doing a disservice to Caroline by stressing about a problem that may never exist.