Special Needs Parents, Offer Affection, But Don't Force It

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

When you have a child with specific sensory aversions, it can feel incredibly difficult to get close to them. Through no fault of their own, or even yours, they may rarely want to have a hug or cuddle or even kiss. This is especially present for those on the Autism Spectrum, but Sensory Processing Disorder can be found accompanying several neurodivergent diagnoses.

Two daughters cuddling with each other in a black a white photo.


People with Sensory Processing Disorder feel more than neurotypicals. It is not that we don't want to be physically close to others, or that we are just overreacting to everything. Everything is literally too much to handle. Sure, sometimes when we are prepared, we can handle those bigger sensory inputs, like loud music.. But we have to be prepared for it.

This world isn't designed for us.

Our world is full of an overwhelming amount sensory input (noises, sounds, physical textures, tastes) and it just is not created for those with hypersensitivity. Even people who are sensory-seeking are still going to have moments when they can't handle being touched (my niece is like this when she's having a meltdown). The key is... to not force it. This is especially difficult for the special needs parents, because you already feel overwhelmed, and just want to show your child you love them.

Sure, those of us with kids with these issues usually have our children in therapies to help with this. There is a certain amount of desensitizing we all need, so that we can learn to cope with sensory inputs that we must deal with (I couldn't wear clothes as a young child and required this help). But, things like affection should never be forced.

It seems simple, but it's not.

So, what do I mean by that? "Don't force affection". It seems simple, right? You'd be surprised how often I see it, though, through well-meaning people. It comes down to more than the non-consensual kiss from an auntie or grandma. More than the non-consensual lap sitting on Santa's lap for a photo.

As someone with SPD, feeling pushed into affection is an every day occurrence, that can even follow you into marriage.

There are just times when we can't. We can't hold hands. We can't hug. We can't give a kiss. We can't snuggle. We can't high-five. We just can't be involved with another person physically.. and it's OK. Or, at least, it should be. But, I frequently see parents who push their kids to give a kiss to daddy when he leaves for work. Or give their friend a hug when they are parting ways after a playdate. 

That shouldn't be done.
Three photos of a mom and her two girls.

People with special needs are constantly dismissed for their struggles, because those struggles are considered "unseen disabilities". It doesn't matter how many times you explain what you can't handle, people dismiss it. This has always been and, more than likely, always will be. When we teach our kids that their voice/needs aren't as important, as our desire to share affection, we are teaching them that they don't deserve boundaries.

That may sound extreme, but it is true. These seemingly little things that are done in childhood, sink into a child's head, and this becomes their truth. "My needs aren't as important as yours".

Boundaries are everything...

When you go to hug your child, you can simply request for that hug. That request can mean a world of difference for them. "Is it okay if I hug you?"
If they say no or even look uncomfortable, tell them it's OK. Let them know that you are not upset and maybe you'll ask again later. This seemingly simple thing is everything.

With my first child, I didn't operate this way. I did notice that she often didn't want to be affectionate, but I was the young mom, raised a certain way, and would kind of dismiss her denials and go for the hugs and kisses anyway. I know it affected her. Fortunately, I learned and corrected myself, and made sure that she understood that her voice and feelings are heard, so she never lost that ability to speak up, but it still sucked that I was operating that way with her

A red haired mom with her blonde pre-teen girl, hugging and looking at the camera.
What really taught me children's boundaries was my youngest. She has always and will always be a person with a very vocal stance. Even as an infant, if she didn't want to be touched, you knew it. She would literally push me away and scream if I tried to snuggle up to her in bed when she didn't want it! She was a learning curve, not just for me, but my entire family. Everyone knows that if Miss Spunky does not want affection, you do not get it.. and you must absolutely request it. Every time.

At just 5 years old, she has her boundaries clearly set and will not waiver for anyone. I love that. I have high hopes for her in the future with whomever she allows in her life, because they will all know of her boundaries and will respect them. She doesn't play around...

It is SIMPLE acts that can make a huge difference for our children. It doesn't take great effort for us to request or offer affection to them, and then accept whatever their answer is. We should never force affection upon them. Ever. There is literally never a reason to do it...


This, among so many other things, can help us be better parents. Check out other posts about becoming a better Special Needs Parent here

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