sensory overload – touch

ID-10036413 uncomfortable clothing
Some clothing can be unbelievably uncomfortable or downright painful (image courtesy of ningmilo at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Along with sound, touch (or texture) is an area where Geordie has, in the past, suffered from sensory overload.

I need to preface this by saying that I know there are many people with Autism who are unable to cope with skin-to-skin touch, i.e. hugging, holding hands, kissing etc. We are so, so lucky that this does not apply to Geordie. In fact, skin-to-skin contact is one of the few things that can pull him out of a meltdown. I thank the powers that be every day for the fact I can hug, cuddle and kiss my boy.

Clothing has been the ‘goliath’ for Geordie.

We’ve all suffered, at some time, from the scratchy jumper or the too tight neckline or the tickly tag. It’s irritating and uncomfortable, but manageable. Not so for Geordie. According to Tony Attwood, these clothing mishaps can be downright painful, to the point where the individual is unable to function.

Again, as with our experience with loud noises, I wish I had known this when Geordie was a toddler. It may have explained several things:

♦ the need to cut out every bit of the clothing tag from every item of clothing as failure to do so would cause great distress

♦ the refusal to wear socks for a whole year; shoes without socks were fine, but socks in shoes meant standing up and walking was just not going to happen

♦ the difficulty of transferring from summer clothes to winter ones; several months of bare legs meant moving back into long pants was a nightmare.

These days clothing remains an issue, albeit a more manageable one. We still have to cut the tags off clothing and struggle a little to make the move back into long pants. There are also many items of unworn clothing in the cupboard; most of them are there because “I don’t like how they feel”. Personally, I can’t tell the difference — they all feel the same to me — but Geordie obviously can.

I imagine shopping for someone with sensory issues would be somewhat similar to grocery shopping for someone with food intolerance — you cannot just pick items willy-nilly and assume they will be fine. I have learned to: forget about buying anything in denim; leave clothing with cuffs (jumpers and track suit pants) on the shelves; and test the stretchiness of the neckline before purchasing t-shirts and jumpers. We also don’t do shirts with buttons or collars; and anything with a hood has to be really special to get a look in.

It’s all manageable and is just a case of being aware; although, just for fun, Geordie will occasionally throw in a curve-ball and refuse to wear something he has been fine with for years.

Given what I know now about sensory overload for touch, I am prone to wonder if this had anything to do with Geordie’s sleeping issues as a baby. Was it the texture of his pyjamas, or the sheets, or the blanket? Was it the open space around him, perhaps — little body in a big cot? Was it the lack of skin-to-skin contact? I suspect we will never really know.

What these questions, and our many years of clothing wars, do show, however, is the need to be flexible and not make assumptions. Trying to identify the cause of sensory overload meltdowns, and make adjustments to accommodate them, is much more productive than telling the child to ‘grow up’ or looking to punish him for his behaviour (both of which I have been told to do, or witnessed being done).

Geordie’s clothing preferences are just another part of his beautiful and quirky personality.

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