Physical contact – a touchy subject

Over the past few months and years, I have become increasingly aware that I have very specific boundaries when it comes to touch. I’ve always been easily startled and insanely ticklish – anyone who has ever poked me, tickled me, tried to tuck my label in without warning or given me eyedrops (a long and painful story) will vouch for this.

Actually, my ticklishness has been a source of great amusement to some. Namely my sister, who used to like poking or tickling me while recording the noises I made, and my mum, who used to like massaging me. Or rather, putting her hands to my neck and watching me fall to the floor. Until I got too big.

Touch sensitivity is very common in people on the autistic spectrum. Some people don’t like certain clothes. Some don’t like certain textures. Some don’t like any touching from people at all. Personally I’m not that extreme, but perhaps it would be more straightforward for others if I was, given my complicated touching rules that I am disclosing for the first time…

– No tickling or poking. I will not pay for the consequential medical treatment you will probably need.
– If there is a less than 100% chance I remember who you are, no touching, please.
– Believe it or not, I actually like hugs with people I know. If we are greeting or about to part, or if one of us is sad, hug away!
– Outside of this, I like any other touching to be kept to a minimum at most.
– If you are an immediate family member or very close friend, take that last point with a pinch of salt UNLESS…
– I am getting overloaded, frustrated or worked up about something, in which case, U CAN’T TOUCH THIS! MC Hammer’s words, not mine.

A bit stuck up? Possibly. Which is why I never normally rattle off the above points to every new acquaintance. I’m not saying it’s ok to be that finicky about touch. I understand it’s normal for someone to try to put a new person at ease by touching their arm. It’s just how I feel.

I think this is partly why I relate to cats so well. The reason so many people love dogs is that they like an animal that’ll smother them and anyone with physical affection. Whereas I’m more like the cat that makes a beeline for cat haters. Not because they want to antagonise them, but because they are drawn to people who aren’t constantly staring at them and trying to touch them.

I’m not saying I’m drawn to people who don’t like me. I just connect more easily with people who also have their invisible boundaries that get taken down bit by bit and who make friends one step at a time.

And if, just to play devil’s advocate, you encounter someone on the spectrum who over-does physical contact, try breaking down the above guidelines. If you are that person, let’s just say you would do well to remember them!

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Post uni summer part 2: Camping, aka Momentum

I may have mentioned I’m not good at keeping up with trending topics. It seems that this even covers recent events in my own life. I did say that I’d get around to writing about this, though, and nearly 3 weeks later, I am actually getting around to it.

Momentum, for those of you who don’t know, is a yearly Christian festival with music, talks, seminars and camping. Lots of camping. In other words, dirt, unpredictable weather, muddy toilets, muddy showers, no alone time, poor sleeping and a diet of cereal bars, apples and crisps. When you put it like that, I really don’t know why I enjoy it. But I suppose Jesus survived in the wilderness with no resources at all, so…

Also, it helped that I had a lot of lovely people to hang out with. I’m just going to name the two who have given me permission to mention them: Kathryn (middle), proud tent owner who I’ve known for years, and Chantelle (right) who I became friends with through Kat. We did nearly everything together, and I can’t think who I would rather be squashed in car full of luggage with.

One of the good things about Momentum is that it isn’t some token religious convention. Young adults and youth leaders come to learn, to challenge themselves and to have a good time with their friends. I like to think I managed all three. The majority of the day is made up of seminars. From personality types to relationships to “what does the bible say about x?” A lot of stuff to be learned.

And the main meetings. As well as opportunities for worship and reflection, these comprise talks that strike the right balance between deep, nitty gritty heart-to-heart stuff and comedy gold. Lead by Watford pastor Mike Pilavachi, known for his skill at bringing people to faith, love of food and slightly quirky humour. Who better to give such talks?

Finally, the venues. Who said that Christian events are nothing more than old buildings full of middle aged people singing in time to organ music? Come on, there’s a skating rink, a drive in cinema, book stalls, souvenir stalls, take away outlets, a silent disco and cafes that do hot chocolate and cake to die for. Ok, I refused to set foot on the skating rink and never found the cinema. But I readily explored the rest.

I guess what I’m trying to put across is that these events are not just for one social category. Yes, they help bring people to faith and deepen existing faith, and Momentum does a brilliant job there. But it’s not just for hard-and-fast Christians. It’s for those who struggle with faith, it’s for non-believers who are curious, it’s for people who have been through hell and back seeking healing, prayer and answers. In other words, there is something there for everyone.

Well, everyone who can tolerate a week of camping.

Post uni summer part 1: Graduation

Does my brain look big in this?

Does my brain look big in this?

It seems that in the excitement of graduating, camping, job searching and doing nothing, I have been neglecting my blog. Not that there’s anything particularly odd about that, except that I have almost let a couple of highly blog-worthy events pass me by. Almost, but not quite. Starting with: graduation.

You know those social events that you like the thought of, enthusiastically agree to, then find about as draining as running a marathon? My graduation ceremony, for all its highlights, was a perfect example. Lots to remember, people on all sides, uncomfortable clothes? Check, check and check.

Most people tend to stress about the actual ceremony the most. If anything, that was the least of my worries. I mean, you sit with people you know in designated seats, you’re shown where to walk, you’re shown what to do and then you do it. Yes, you have a huge audience, but other than that, piece of cake.

But before that, the number of things to remember alone was enough to make me need a lie-down. Where and when to collect your clothes. Where and when to go for photography. What to do during the ceremony. When to return your clothes*. What to do about collecting tickets. To name a few.

Previously, I rang the graduation team. I explained to the lady on the phone that I am mildly autistic and have trouble dealing with piecing together lots of information from different sources, and could she please just summarise the essentials. She told me that everything I need to know was on the website, the brochure and in emails. I repeated what I just said, and got what I needed. Phew!

I also had a number of people say to me ‘smile, it’s your graduation!’ I’m not expressive at the best of times, and at that point I was so mentally overloaded that eventually Mum just took me off to a quiet, empty room somewhere, and we stayed there until the ceremony. Graduation organisers, for any graduands on the autistic spectrum, or possibly with mental illnesses, more places like this would be a godsend.

Despite what it sounds like, it was a good experience, and I am glad I went. I got to see certain familiar faces, quite possibly for the last time (get your tissues out. Or not, either way). I participated in that rite of passage that is throwing my mortarboard in the air in a group photo. My family were supportive and patient throughout it all.

And finally, I really can say that I’ve survived uni, and am ready for whatever challenges and opportunities (and clichéd graduation speeches!) lie ahead.

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*Not all your clothes. Just your hired graduation ones.