Polly Flinders was the bane of my childhood. I hated her with a passion. Why? Because she made dresses like this that were all the rage for little girls in the seventies:
For a four-year-old with tactile defensiveness, that dress was an instrument of torture. I can still feel the exposed elastic biting into my upper arm, the scratchy lace prickling my skin, the rasp of the tag on the back of my neck, the smocking bunching up across my chest.
Thanks to Polly Flinders and her ilk, I was branded a tomboy early in life. Not because I didn’t like dresses, per se. The way clothing feels is ten times more important to me than how it looks and “boyish” clothes (jeans, plain cotton shirts) were more comfortable.
I still shop for clothing based on feel first and look second. Where a lot of women see exciting new outfits, I see this:
Clothes shopping is a matter of eliminating the things I know will be too uncomfortable then choosing what I like from the remaining options. If there are any.
When I do find something I like–and by like, I mean something that’s comfortable–I tend to buy it in multiples. I have a rainbow of v-neck t-shirts and long sleeve tees, all exactly the same brand, style, material and cut. Last weekend, I found a soft comfy sweater at Old Navy and bought it in three different colors.
When I like something, I’ll wear it until it literally falls apart. The few things I really love–my favorite pair of jeans, my softest t-shirt–I put on as soon as they come out of the wash. They rarely get hung up in the closet.
That isn’t to say that I live in tees and jeans. I have some dressier clothes that are comfortable. I try to dress both comfortably and appropriately for the situation. You’re just not going to find me greeting my husband at the door in pearls and heels like June Cleaver.
Complicated and Delicate
My defensive shopping strategy, my intense dislike of Polly Flinders and many of my behavior quirks are a result of tactile defensiveness. Of all the sensory issues associated with ASD, this is the one that is most pervasive for me.
Tactile defensiveness (or tactile sensitivities, if you prefer) takes many forms, but the basic idea is that it causes a negative reaction to a tactile stimulus that is generally considered nonirritating by neurotypical people. The “nonirritating” tactile stimuli that irritate me include: seams (especially in socks!), tags, ruffles, lace, synthetics, wool, tags, tight/high waists, exposed elastics, stitching that I can feel against my skin, collars that are too high, collars that are too open, tags, shirts that are too loose or formless, and sleeves that are anything other than standard short or long sleeve length.
Did I mention tags?
The first thing I do when I buy a new shirt is cut the tag out. Unless The Scientist gets to it first. Last weekend I was about to cut the tag out of one my new sweaters when he took it away from me and went to get his penknife. I have a history of being so eager to get every little bit of the tag out of a shirt that I accidentally cut the shirt. The Scientist then has to listen to me berating myself for ruining a new shirt, so when the task looks complicated, he sometimes takes matters into his own hands.
As he was carefully trimming the last bits of stitching away, I bounced over to ask him why it was taking so long and without looking up from his work, he said, “It’s complicated and delicate. Like your feelings.”
And so true. My relationship with clothing has always been complicated. I have a lot of frustration and shame connected to my clothing preferences, mostly because I avoid clothes that are considered more stereotypically feminine. This was a big problem growing up. Shopping for dress-up clothes was a battle that both my mother and I dreaded. Still, no matter how much I protested, I was expected to dress “like a girl” on special occasions. The rest of the time, I defiantly clung to my worn bell-bottom pants and cotton polo shirts.
The Root of the Problem: Light Touch
The general theory of tactile defensiveness is that the light touch receptors in the skin are overly sensitive, triggering a “fight or flight” response, that causes the sufferer to perceive certain types of touch as threatening.
The first part rings true for me. I’m definitely oversensitive to light touch. The second part? Not so much. I have more of a “get the hell away from me” response. I don’t feel threatened by a lace collar. I don’t feel my heart begin to race or my palms sweat. Some types of sensory overload do provoke a fight or flight response in me, but when it comes to tactile sensitivities, the unwanted stimulus just irritates the hell out of me, to the point that I can’t stop thinking about anything other than making it go away.
I do know that others have much more severe tactile sensitivities than I do, so perhaps some people experience a response on the level of fight or flight. (If anyone who does can address this in the comments, that would be excellent.)
Deep Touch: The Kind Aspies Crave
Contrary to popular belief that aspies don’t want to be touched at all, many aspies like and seek out deep pressure touch. This is definitely true for me. I love the feel of heavy blankets, snug clothing (Under Armour!), and falling asleep with my husband spooned against me.
As a kid, I liked to pull my beanbag chair on top of me while I watched TV. I also liked to get my sister to lie down on me, a short-lived trick that stopped the day I told my older cousins about it and they made fun of me.
Occupational therapists recommend things like weighted blankets and lap pads to help children with tactile sensitivities get the pressure they crave. I’ve also read a lot of parents’ stories about children squeezing themselves into crevices between furniture, which is probably another way of getting a full body squeeze. I do something similar on trains and airplanes, slouching in my seat and wedging my knees against the seat in front of me.
My tactile sensitivities have led to dozens of little quirks, most of which started in childhood. I’ve never liked the feeling of water spraying on my face (oddly, I’m fine with having my face underwater). If I’m eating something messy with my fingers, I clean them on a napkin between every bite. When my skin gets too cold, it itches worse than a case of poison ivy. If someone kisses me, I immediately wipe the little wet spot from my face.
These are all annoyances. I’ve been working around them or grudgingly tolerating them for decades. But as an adult with tactile sensitivities, I’ve also encountered an adult problem. To address it, I’m going to spend a couple of paragraphs talking about sex. If that makes you uncomfortable, you should skip down to the last section.
Tactile defensiveness can have a big impact on an intimate relationship. In my case, at times it makes me shrink away from my husband’s touch. Light touching–the kind often associated with seduction and sensuality–makes me tense up and pull away. It’s not so much irritating (like uncomfortable clothing) as it is overstimulating. Imagine being tickled in your most ticklish spot. My reflexive response is to break contact as quickly as possible.
For years, my aversion to sensual touching was the source of much frustration for both of us. My husband didn’t understand why I was randomly rejecting him. And it wasn’t a polite, “not tonight, dear, I have a headache” rejection. It was a very literal, “don’t touch me” often muttered as I shoved his hand away. Unfortunately, I had no explanation for why I disliked being touched at certain times or in specific ways. If I couldn’t explain it to myself, how I could explain it to him?
While I have a better understanding of my touch sensitivities now thanks to reading about Asperger’s, I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy light touching. On the positive side, many types of sexual touching and contact fall into the realm of deep pressure, meaning that it’s possible to have a rewarding sex life even if you suffer from tactile defensiveness. It may require some patience and communication, as well as a bit of research and experimenting, but it’s definitely possible.
Was I Supposed to Outgrow This?
In researching tactile sensitivities, I found a few occupational therapists who stated that most children outgrow their tactile defensiveness. Perhaps the children who get the recommended intensive early therapy do. I clearly haven’t, and judging from the postings on ASD forums, neither have many other adults.
There is little therapeutic information available for adults with tactile defensiveness. Once you’re past the age when playing with Play-doh is appropriate, I guess you’re supposed to be old enough to suck it up and deal with it.
As with so many other aspects of ASD, the experts seem to forget that autistic children grow up to be autistic adults. When that happens, the same sensitivities that kept us from finger painting affect our marriages and our parenting abilities. While I’ve seen some literature acknowledging that this problem exists, there is frustratingly little that addresses what we can do about it.
*Polly Flinders is actually a character in a British nursery rhyme who had the misfortune of having her name co-opted by Bayliss Brothers, the company who made the dresses. Sorry, Polly, I guess I don’t really hate you after all, just your horrible namesake dresses.
103 thoughts on “Tactile Defensiveness”
Along with my mom and daughter, I am very sensitive to the “feel” of everything on my body. Unless its fleece I can’t wear synthetics. And my husband laughs because I can’t sleep unless the blankets and sheets are tucked in tightly at my feet, the tighter the better!
I know what you mean about the blankets! I like to roll myself up in them like a burrito. 🙂
Psychologists do love to talk about fight or flight reactions, but that sometimes seem to forget that there are other instinctive reactions. In the case of light touch, I would call the reaction “insect defense,” at least in my experience. Humans have an instinctive aversion to the feeling of insects crawling on their skin. It produces an itch that produces an instinctive response of scratching, rubbing, swatting and the like while inciting a feeling of annoyance or creepy-crawly shudder that screams “get that off of my skin!”
As you may have guessed, I am an older auspie with severe tactile defensiveness. I wonder if this is related to having always been ticklish. Most people are supposed to grow out of being ticklish, but I am 43 and still ticklish all over as bad as when I was a kid. Throw in a little chemical sensitivity and you have a lifetime of being chewed out for scratching inappropriately.
John Mark McDonald
The “insect defense” is a great name for that feeling you just can’t ignore when something is irritating your skin.
I have a feeling the “fight or flight” assumption comes from children who lash out because of their TD, hitting or fleeing caregivers in response to uncomfortable clothes or touch. But it’s one of those assumptions that makes no sense to me at all.
Those dresses were the worst things ever! I was a child of the 70’s and I would be naked in the car as soon as they put a dress like that on me. It makes me break out to even think about it. Lordy.
They were awful! And there were the itchy tights and stiff pinch-y patent leather shoes . . .
Oh the itchy tights – we had to wear them for school, it was excruciating!
I first wanted to say that your blog is amazing! I am a 25 years old female( with aspergers and tourettes), who has been married for two years, with a husband who does not have aspergers, so it has been tough but amazing at the same time. I am slowly reading your different postiings. It is ironic how much I relate to them. In regards to tactiles and defensivenesses there was so much here. At the age of 2 I can remeber not wanting to wear my training diapers. As I got older I only liked to wear pants that were super soft, either velvet, nothing like jeans, took me many years before I could wear jeans. To this day I have to find jeans that have more of a “stretch” to them. Also you mentioned that you did not like to get water in your face. That made me remeber as a child I would not go under water until I was 12. I would go into the pool, I would even dip my hair back and wet it but I would not go under the water. My parents promised to buy me anything if I did it, but I was a stubborn kid and would not do it. What was interesting to side note that you mentioned with tactile sensitivities and in the bedroom. For the most part im okay, but there are times here and there when I am uncomforable and I do not know why, and my husband jumps to conclusion that he does not turn me on, which that is not the case. Thank you for mentioning this, do you have any books to suggust that I could read?
Thank you for the kind words. As I kid I remember having pairs of pants that I was unnaturally attached too because they had become so soft from wearing and washing them. Giving stuff up when I outgrew it was downright traumatic.
I wish I could recommend something specifically for adult aspies with touch sensitivities but there is so little out there. Tony Attwood’s “The Complete Guide to Asperger’s” has a chapter on adult relationships, but it’s very brief and not especially hopeful (the book overall is really informative though).
It seems like we’re left to find our own way. Perhaps communicating what you said here to your husband (in more detail, of course) would be helpful? You could give him this post to read as a start if that’s easier. Then you’d have a jumping off point for discussing/experimenting with what types of things you like and don’t like. I’ve found that openly communicating, even if it’s just to say “This isn’t working for me and I don’t know why”, is a huge help for both myself and my husband. Good luck with your aspie-NT marriage. It can be an incredible adventure!
My partner is happy with most kinds of touching, but every once in a while, if I surprise him with a light touch, he responds with a defensive move. Sometimes if I hug him lightly he says “let me know that your there” and it’s taken me AGES to stop stroking any of my three aspies hair when they need comfort, they all hate it. The youngest goes all Jedi on me if I touch his head and the other two sort of tolerate it and try to shake me off.
Sensory defensiveness is not as huge a part of our life as you would think though. I think because I’m hugely outnumbered as the only NT there aren’t many aversive experiences that are expected of the three of them.
Except for hair cuts… my god it takes me a few wines to get through them usually… my poor boys!
Thank you! Yes, any sort of stroking makes me jumpy, too. My poor husband assumes he’s comforting me and instead he’s just making me more agitated.
I see haircuts brought up again and again and this is one thing that never really bothered me. Then again, I’ve been cutting my own hair for the last 5 years so that might say something. Also, wine makes everything easier! 🙂
I am so glad you wrote about tactile defensiveness and sex. Jeez, it’s hard trying to find info on sex as a dyspraxic/possible aspie when all the experts think we cease to exist at the age of 16. I am oversensitive to touch and pain, especially in a few key areas which can make sex with me awkward and uncomfortable (penetration is out of the question but I’m not sure if there’s any other explaination for that). I feel like partners touching me have to carefully tread a frustratingly thin line between “That is a lovely sensation, please continue” and “Nope. That thing that felt fine 0.2 seconds ago is now unbearably uncomfortable and you have to stop. Like right now.” I don’t know what I can do about it, other than learning what my body’s limits and quirks are and trying to explain that to whoever I’m about to have sexytimes with.
Yes, yes, yes. The lack of information for adults is sad and frustrating. I know what you mean about the shifting sensitivities. A lot is mood-dependent for me. (As an aside, it may be worth getting an exam to see if there is another medical explanation for pain with penetration? IDK) I think the best we can do is try to learn what works and doesn’t for us and share that with our partners. I think that’s true of anyone, but for people with TD, the limits and quirks may be a little more extreme and really need to be respected.
Pi, please look up vaginismus. DH and I both think my sensory issues contributed to it. There are books and therapeutic aids that help a lot. I used to be a lot like you describe, then went on to conceive and vaginally deliver two kids. I wish I could say sex is enjoyable, but it isn’t all the time. It definitely is a lot better than when I started off before self-therapy
I relate with so much of this!!! Thank you for sharing!
Thank you! 🙂
This is fascinating. I am NT but have certain types of tactile sensitivity. For me it seems to be caused/exacerbated by anxiety. I can’t bear to be touched at all if I am upset because it is massively over-stimulating and therefore unbeareable. I also often find light touches infuriating to the point of anger and certainly very sexually off-putting. I crave certain types of fabric and clothing shape if I am feeling anxious to the point of putting certain clothes on under others so that the soft smooth fabric is what is touching my skin.
Its not something I suffered with as a child and I’m not hugely ticklish so its seems to be related to the fact that my brain can’t process the information properly if I am emotionally distressed.
That’s interesting. Tactile defensiveness can be a condition that exists on its own or as part of a broader sensory processing disorder outside of autism.
I definitely feel like anxiety (or my mood in general) affects my sensitivity to touch as well. If I’m stressed one of the first things I’ll do is seek out comfortable clothing to try to ratchet down the anxiety-producing input.
Tactile defensiveness…I think I’ve been through this…but I guess I’m used to it already. I guess that’s why I’m pretty sensitive to touch….
It could be that you’re less sensitive now than you were but still retain some of the sensitivity. I know there are therapies out there that are aimed at reducing tactile defensiveness over time.
Your articles help me put things into word and help me realize how deep the asperger syndrom goes into me, so to speek. It’s wonderful! Thank you! 🙂
Thank you for saying so! Glad you’re finding them helpful. 🙂
I’m in my early 40’s. this has bothered me for years exactly how you explained with clothes, especially bras and the elastic at the top of underwear. I get burning skin & hives from lace, elastic, etc. If my face gets a light misting I have to dry it right away. And the food/ greasy fingers …. Same. Amazing post.
I glad you were able to relate! I completely forgot to mention underwear. I only buy the kind that have a cotton covered waistband because I can’t stand the exposed elastic.
Musings, I SO relate to this. I am a lesbian and sex has become more difficult over time (could be because of MS and endometriosis too). Still, light touch can be as painful as a punch. You are doing a wonderful job in your blog and I really could not state it better myself. I had actually started writing a book under a pen name about “Coming out Aspie” and you really pin so much of it down. I feel like I see myself in you. I’m 47, no kids – a wonderful and loving NT partner (Ph.D smart Poly Sci girl) and 6 lovely cats. Couldn’t ask for more. Loving your blog and just wanted you to know it.
I’m glad you can relate. When I first found out about my AS last year, I felt a little lost at how little information is out there for adult women. Finding other autistic women’s blogs was so encouraging to me as well. I hope you continue writing your book – the title is great!
I’m soo glad I finally found some first-hand information about AS in girl, especially this sensibility thing. I personnaly have the light touch problem (Tags, one hell of an invention), but now i’m dealing with cloth somehow. Reading your post make me understand that i’m acting exactly in the same way as you when I have to buy cloth: fabric and collar before all. Got a collar? Made of something I can’t stand? Even if it’s superb, I will never be able to wear it. My parents and friends always thought it was weird, but I feel relieved now that I know i’m not the only one who can’t stand those dress!
(And yes, I’m gonna stick around a bit in the comment section)
So happy you’ll be sticking around and commenting. I was relieved too when I found that my aversion to uncomfortable clothing has not just a name but a valid reason for existing. We’re not just weird! 😀
I’m so glad this topic is still going. As a male on the spectrum, I was lucky enough not to have to deal with dresses. On the other hand, dress clothes were the bane of my existence. As the son of a preacher, I was always expected to “dress up nice” every Sunday. As is very common on the spectrum, my body proportions are not typical. I am short and stocky with thick shoulders and a thick neck. This meant that off the rack button down shirts did not fit at all. As my father came from the southern poor preacher tradition, tailored clothing was something I had heard of but never experienced. As a child I truly believed that the top but not a button-down shirt was for strangulation, as this was the result if you tried to button it on me. Hi scratchy scholars with tags that were paired with a do-it-yourself noose called a tie. And you can’t use a clip on tie if you can’t button the strangulation button. The shoulders were always too narrow and the sleeves were always too long. They were made out of flimsy material but if I did something odd like reach for something with both hands, I would end up destroying a shirt that my family could not board to replace. Add in a chemical sensitivity that made me itch nearly constantly and you had a torture suit.
John Mark McDonald
I’m so so relieved that I’ll never have to wear a tie or dress pants or button the top button of a collar. Just looking at my husband tightening up his tie makes me cringe. Thank you for providing the male point of view on this subject!
Hello! I know what you mean about the top button on a shirt. I found Oxford cloth dress shirts did not strangle me. At least, if they were made by Lands’ End. Their Original Oxford was the first Oxford I found that didn’t strangle me. They used to have what they called a
Royal Oxford. They might still have it in their custom shirts line. It has a beautiful honeycomb weave, and feels even better on the neck than the Original Oxford. They might really help you.
Also, I have found that pinpoint Oxford shirts ARE TIGHT AROUND THE NECK. Apparently, the weave of the cloth makes a real difference here.
If you are still looking for relief in this area, these shirts may be worth a try.
I’m the strange sort of person that fades in and out of tactile defensiveness and the like. I love being cuddled and hugged and I CRAVE it, I touch everything in sight, and yet some things really, REALLY bother me.
When I was young, I refused to wear socks of any sort (it was terrible, because they made me wear socks for my school uniform. >.<). I hated tights as well, but my mom loved to dress me up, so I tolerated them.
I hated tags, seams, lace, etc- just like you do now. However, as I've grown, I've definitely noticed that my tactile issues are fading a bit. In honesty, I sometimes wonder if I'm more hyposensory than hypersensory, and I often don't notice when my clothes are wrinkly
I dislike shoes, socks, tights… anything on my feet. However, I'm starting to cope with it all over time. After all, I can't have frozen toes! xD
I do dislike light touch to an extent, but I can usually convince myself to deal with it when I have to- it just doesn't feel natural to me. It feels intruding, I guess.
I also have my own 'odd' tactile quirks. When I shake hands with someone, I swear that I can actually feel the germs crawling on my hand from their hand, and the same goes for anything that I perceive as dirty. I wash my hands very frequently for this reason, as the feeling is enough to drive me insane. I also have an aversion to things brushing against my fingernails- I know it sounds ridiculous, but I truly can not handle it at all.
My sensory processing issues seem much milder than most, but I do have them.
Yeah… sorry for the long comments. 😮
I also wear clothes to the point of destruction, though! I wear the same thing constantly. XD The same goes for shoes.
I do too. Literally until stuff falls apart or disintegrates.
I’ve actually just recently done that to around four pairs of shoes. It’s so sad, because they’re the only ones that I’ll wear! XD Time to whip out the needle and start sewing!
Your comments are great! I can relate to a lot of what you said. I like tight hugs and any sort of cuddling that involves good firm pressure but not light touch. I’m super picky about my socks and can’t wear tights/nylons for very long without feeling like something is crawling all over my legs. Also, the way you are with your fingernails? I’m like that with my toes. I can’t stand anything or anyone touching them!
Touching things is actually a form of stimming and one of my favorites. I’m constantly touching surfaces and objects, especially when I’m out in public (the kitchenware department at Target is sensory heaven). Museums are a big test of self-control because I want to touch all of the art. 🙂
Oh, good. :3 I can relate to your posts so well sometimes that I get a bit overzealous… heh.
My mom always told me to look but not touch as a child. Needless to say, I never listened. 😛
As a warning, all of my comments are probably gonna be pretty long because I’m trying to work things out in my head. Yep. XD
Oh, and I also despise jeans. I only have around two pairs that I find tolerable, and I refused to wear them at all when I was little!
I like to buy my jeans at a thrift store so they come already broken in. I’m super picky about the fit and material but when I find a pair I like, I wear them until they’re shredded.
Oooh, same! 😀 😀 😀
I am shocked to hear you describe yourself as someone with Aspergers – Have you heard of Sensory Processing Disorder? been around since 2001 – Sensational Kids, by Lucy Jane Miller, is a good book – although focused on kids with the disorder, it relates to everyone. My eldest son has SPD, and deep, strong touch works best, tight hugs etc. He is sensory seeking and thus seeks sensations, and is not over-responsive to sensations relating to clothing, but he does hate it when his hair has been cut and the feel of cut hair on his neck and back, he has to have a shower immediately afterwards.
There is a lot of misdiagnosis out there, and Aspergers has become a ‘go-to’ diagnosis, along with ADHD. But SPD is slowly starting to come in. http://www.spdfoundation.net/index.html
Take a look at the website, you might find some useful information in there.
You know, it’s probably not a good idea to read a single post out of an entire blog about being Aspergers, and conclude from the content of that single post that the person is wrong about themselves.
I’m familiar with SPD and there is a lot of overlap between the sensory issues of SPD and Asperger’s. Thank you for the link – I’ll add it to my collection.
There is more to Aspergers that this tactile stuff. Lynne is just writing abt one aspect of it.
There is so much more involved in having Aspergers. Lynne is just writing abt the tactile part of it here.
All of the above. Tactics I’ve learned to deal:
1. Keeping a dry towel hanging in the shower so I can wipe off any water that gets in my face.
2. Having seam rippers available at home and in my wallet so if a tag suddenly starts bothering me, I can take it out on the spot without ripping my clothes too much. They’re small, cheap, and available pretty much anywhere you can find a sewing kit.
3. Wearing clothing inside out, especially socks!!!, to keep the seams away from my skin. I’ve found that a lot of clothes use different kinds of thread to sew the seams than is in the clothing itself. Some I swear are plastic. I never wear socks seam side in anymore, which makes some of the more patterned ones sort of awesome looking because they get all fuzzy. In fact, I look to see what they look like inside out before I buy them anymore. I tend to wear shirts in layers because I can’t stand to wear bras, and that bottom layer is almost always inside out. Hardly anyone ever notices, though I’ll note that I don’t have a 9-5 job in the public eye.
About hard vs soft touch – I find that I have an unusually strong and positive reaction to deep massage. This may be because I’m one of the tensest people I know, but it could also be related to the pressure thing now you mention it. I’ve found that a warm hand putting gentle pressure on my lower belly calms me down quite a bit, especially when it’s someone else’s hand. Which is funny, because a light touch in that same area sends me into spasms of tickle pain.
Perhaps it’s because I’m more aware of it now and refuse to pain myself in order to “pass”, “fit in”, or “not be odd”, but my sensitivities are getting worse with age, not better. Chemical ones especially. But I’m also getting better at accepting myself and thumbing my nose up at conventions. For a long time I was still trying to wear underwear, but I’d find myself ripping them off while I was driving because I couldn’t think straight. Now if I do, they have to be very specific styles, and usually inside out.
I bite my nails to the quick, and anything catching on them is pure torture. Very, very picky about my blankets and sheets. I feel very much like the Princess and the Pea, which I always think of in my head as the Aspie and the Pea because who else would be so sensitive?!
I have a seam ripper! It’s very handy for getting rid of tags and annoying threads. I also know exactly what you mean about that kind of thread that feels like plastic. What’s up with that? It should be against the law.
Your “Aspie and the Pea” nickname made me smile. That’s a very accurate analogy. Nothing gets by us. It’s good to hear though, that you’re caring less about other’s opinions and being more understanding with yourself as you grow older. Better to be comfortable but unconventional than to try to please others in a way that means you have to suffer.
I keep a nail clipper in my pocket at all times. They can cut through just about anything: threads, tags stray hairs that are tickling me, etc.
That’s a great idea! And something I could easily toss in my bag.
I’m SO glad that someone has finally written about this aspect of Aspie marriage!! I’ve known for a while that my aspieness has had an effect on my marriage bed but haven’t been able to find any thing to back up or confirm my suspicions let alone help me find ways to make things easier. Truthfully, I’ve been afraid to do any sort of google search for fear of finding things I would rather NOT find! My husband has learned to not take it personally and back off when I jerk and shove his hand away.
I would add to the sensory issues, an extreme aversion to “body fluids” due to my OCD. It is not easy to have any kind of creativity in a marriage bed when this issue is thrown into the mix. My hubby and I have had to find ways to compromise in this area. There are times when I am able to force myself to get past my extreme aversion and other times I simply can’t do it. I do hope I haven’t been inappropriate by sharing this.
It’s so hard to find any information for adult aspies in this area and I know what you mean about the fearing the results of Googling! 🙂 Thank you for adding your experience with body fluids. It’s not inappropriate at all. OCD often comes along with the Asperger’s package so I’m sure you’re not the only one who experiences this and others will probably be relieved to read it. In fact, that’s always my hope when I post something that others will come along and enrich it with their own similar and differing experiences because I know that many many readers also read the comments.
Yes to the inside out clothes! I do that all the time now. Oh and a single hair that somehow finds itself in my shirt sends fiery burning sensations so bad that I stop everything ( even in public ) hunting for it. One hair. Burning. My cats are not aloud in my room, I can feel cat fur landing on my face ( especially my nose) when I sleep. Torture. Hair Dye gave me full body hives and my head was ” on fire”…. And finally, I want to burn all my bras!!
Wearing clothes inside out is a great idea. Anything that makes stuff softer and more tolerable.
I don’t think I could ever dye my hair. I’m going happily grey instead. And the bras . . . only when necessary. 🙂
Sadly, for me bras are ALWAYS necessary. Except when I’m sleeping. Sigh.
Holy mother, get out of my head! I’ve known for some time that I was Asperger’s, but only recently read about tactile defensiveness, and wondered who’d been spying on me. Unlike many others, I don’t like cuddling or massage, either, but light touching/stroking drives me just about out of my mind. My poor husband goes to caress my leg and all that’s going through my head is GET IT OFF ME GET IT OFF. 😦 Tags are my bete noire, especially the ones sewn in with decorative METALLIC thread. Are they TRYING to put me in a rubber room with that stuff? Tags on the sides of garments are even worse than the ones at the back of the neck, because you can never completely eradicate them. I refuse to eat most fruit because it’s sticky. A friend’s small child tried to tickle me the other day, and I got the poor kid in trouble because I fled across the room in horror. I love to swim, but can’t bear doing it anywhere near other people because one splash in the face, and I’m outta there. But the thing that really struck home was wiping off every trace of moisture after a kiss. It’s something I try to do surreptiously, because RUDE, but ewww!
Nice to know I’m not alone, although I wouldn’t wish most of this on anyone else. I’m one of the only women I know who’s definitely Asperger’s, and it really puts a hitch in my social getalong sometimes…people expect certain reactions of women, and they just don’t even occur to me. On the other hand, it’s made me a fair actor, since I’ve spent 53 years observing and trying to emulate human behavior.
It sounds like we have a ton in common when it comes to tactile defensiveness. Just the other day, my husband kissed me on the cheek and I was counting the seconds until he turned around so I could wipe my face. Like you said, seems rude to do it while someone is watching but I just can’t wait for it to air dry or whatever other people do. 🙂
That particular tag thread–the metallic stuff and also the plastic-y stuff–ugh. Who decided that would be a good thing to put inside clothes? I don’t know if it’s cheap or durable or what, but it’s a stupid idea. I’ve also been noticing that tagless clothes aren’t much better. I have bunch of girly tees that have the size info written in them in a kind of paint that starts to get crusty and flake off after a few washings. Not buying those again.
Obviously I have a lot of thoughts about this subject, still.
I’m glad you found the blog and can relate!
OMG, I feel like I have found my true family at last! This posting is wiping away a lifetime of mild guilt and defensiveness built up from being told repeatedly by my husband and siblings that I’m “prickly,” “too picky,” “up-tight,” etc. Although I never considered the possibility I might have a touch of AS, it’s clear that at the very least I have some kind of tactile “issues.”
I am thrilled to feel validated about being creeped out by light touch. DH loves receiving and giving these fluttery, delicate butterfly-like caresses, and it drives me insane (in a bad way) to have his fingers lightly dancing on my arm (or elsewhere). It feels like a spider. He gets really annoyed when I don’t join him in rolling down all the windows in the car so the breeze can blow through our hair. (Agggggghhhh.) Funny, but when I’m bicycling down a hill and speeding with the wind in my face, it doesn’t bother me.
When my son was a toddler, I empathized when he reacted stridently against shirts with collars (remember those rugby shirts that were popular in the early 90’s? ditto for polo shirts), or new clothes (I’d cut off the tags, run the garments through the washer dozens of times and distress them with a rock to break them in, and then sneak them into his dresser drawers unannounced). “Why are you coddling him?” my husband would ask. Gee, I never thought of it as coddling because I believed it was perfectly normal to chafe at clothing that binds, scratches, flaps, or flutters; jewelry that jingles (e.g., dangling earrings, bangle bracelets); or — ah yes — light touch. Since it bothered me, I felt I was being a compassionate mom to pick up the signals in my child.
I absolutely LOVE the clothing graphic you posted above! You hit the nail on the head and it has me grinning from ear to ear. Thank God I know how to sew, because every time I go shopping I come home empty-handed. In the last several months I have been working on creating a personal wardrobe of “Kate-friendly fashions” — and there isn’t a single ruffle, turtleneck, crew-neck, 3/4-length or cap sleeve in the batch!
I had a lot of guilt and a bit of shame around this issue for a long time too. I think because girls and women are “expected” to like frilly lacy fancy clothes and I just can’t stand them. I’m smiling at the idea of you secretly distressing your son’s new clothes for him. What an awesome mom!
I’m so glad you found this relatable and helpful. Tactile defensiveness is a real, physical thing–either as part of an autism spectrum disorder or sensory processing disorder. It’s nice to know that you aren’t imagining it, isn’t it?
First of all, I LOVE your blog. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and perspectives. I am an occupational therapist who has worked with people of all ages with sensory processing disorder. I would like to share some thoughts and information. There is a research study titled; Treatment of sensory defensiveness in adults by Beth Pfeiffer and Moya Kinnealey. You can find it at this link
Click to access Treatment_of_sensory_defensiveness_in_adults.pdf
It describes the relationship between sensory defensiveness and anxiety as well as the impact of the sensory integration treatment protocol.
While there is not a plethora of information regarding treatment for adults, the same general principles hold true regarding the “age” of the nervous system. The treatment however, needs to be adapted to the age and specific profile of each individual. As you stated, deep touch pressure can override light touch (rubbing or squeezing the spot on your body which was lightly touched)
Deep touch pressure can be obtained through weighted blankets (one client was able to get a hold of the heavy body protector aprons used at the dentist during x-rays), massages, tight cocoon in sleeping bags, using the foam bumpy mattress pads tightly tucked in etc.
A sensory “diet” can be developed to provide treatment on a pro-active basis to help your nervous system maintain a more adaptive and calm state. This is better than only looking for reactive, in the moment quick fixes. Generally activities that provide heavy work (think of lift, push, pull, carry) can help increase a sluggish, low arousal system as well as decrease an over-reactive, high arousal system. This is because activating the proprioceptive sensory system (located in our muscles, joints and ligaments) provides calming or alerting neuro-chemistry in our brains.
One other idea which may help is prior to intimacy, try giving your body a total scrubbing (firm with pressure) with a loofa or sea sponge (you will need to determine which texture is acceptable) on bare skin (there are specific scrub brushes used as well). Quickly follow with 10 jumping jacks or wall push-ups. The combination of total body deep touch pressure with proprioceptive input may help over-ride defensiveness for greater enjoyment during intimacy.
I hope this helpful.
Thank you for the detailed comment and the research paper. It was a good primer on what’s out there for sensory defensiveness research for adults.
I’m curious if you see a lot of adults who have sensory sensitivities in the absence of autism? In reading the paper, I got to thinking that there might be a high correlation between sensory defensiveness and anxiety in the study due to at least some of the participants having undiagnosed ASD. (I’m assuming there were no officially diagnosed autistics participating because a psychiatric diagnosis was one of the exclusion criteria.) Both sensory sensitivities and anxiety are common features of ASD. Obviously, many people with sensory defensiveness are probably prone to anxiety because of the nature of the sensitivities themselves and how challenging they can make just getting through the day. But I would love to see a study like this that also administered an AQ or some other ASD screening tool to control for ASD as well.
Also, thank you for the detailed tips. I’m a major sensory seeker (I’m sitting here with my laptop in my favorite chair while balancing my feet on my exercise ball) and I have a lot of sensory activities built into my day. Without them, I get cranky and out sorts very quickly.
Really interesting subject and research.
I’ve come across some personal accounts from people who are diagnosed (not sure if it is a DSM thing?) or have labeled themselves Highly Sensitive. A lot of the things they mention seem to correspond to sensory dysfunction, but I’ve also seen traits mentioned that would point to a wider diagnosis than just sensory difficulties. I’m very curious about this so I’d definitely be interested in a study like you mention! I’m getting to the point where I’m starting to think that even autism might be part of an even wider spectrum than we’re currently assuming.
Have you heard of ESSENCE? It’s a European (I think) initiative. If you google “early symptomatic syndromes eliciting neurodevelopmental clinical examinations (ESSENCE)” you’ll turn up some more information on it which I think you might find interesting 🙂
I’m so glad to see I’m not alone! I don’t have Aspergers or autism but am extremely sensitive (the book The Highly Sensitive Child described me well as a kid) and lately I’ve been researching more official diagnoses in hopes of finding better ways to deal with life 🙂 Your infographic hit it right on the head…and it’s extremely frustrating for me because a) I love fashion and b) I tire very easily and don’t have the energy to scour the store and try on every item of clothing that looks like it might be acceptable. I’ve been online shopping lately but you don’t get to feel the clothes that way 😦 and for jeans and shoes, where there’s so much variation in sizing–forget it!
Thanks for the post and for everyone’s comments–it’s given me a lot to think about and research!
Have you seen the Sensory Processing Disorder diagnosis? It’s possible to have sensory sensitivities in the absence of autism. I have a lot of trouble shopping for clothes online because I need to touch everything to see how it feels. And yeah, shopping in stores is exhausting. It must be hard to be very fashion-oriented and have these issues. 😦
As so many others have said, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I have always had the little things. same situation as you with the tomboy thing and my mother trying to shove me into PANTYHOSE!!!!!! and a dress for nice events was world war three!!! somehow I have ended up with SEVERE TD in some ares but walking on grass or sand and getting my face wet doesn’t bother me. Other than that, I’m surprised I’ve survived for 24 years. I can NEVER wear long sleeves… never, winter is my enemy. i can not STAND the way that the fabric bunches up in my elbow bend. and pants are almost as bad… i wear a lot of pajama pants to work (im a nanny so it works out).
i have a wonderful suggested clothes store for women. WET SEAL! first of all NOOOO TAGGGSSSS!!!!!! they’re printed into the shirts!!! yeay! secondly, the shirts are SO comfortable, stretchy material that is lightweight and i normally pair it with a tank top underneath bc they are so thin, it works out great. thirdly they run 5 for $15 sales on their shirts and tanks so they are $3 a piece. i recently got some jeans there too that feel like cotton bliss they are so soft and stretchy.
You asked people to comment if they have violent reactions to touch and i think i fall in that category. i can not stand deep touch either, its worse than light touch for me. heavy blankets freak me out and make me feel like my chect has boulders on it and tight clothes, not going to happen. i was 18 before i was able to force myself to wear bras. my touch episodes trigger massive anxiety attacks, where even the air hurts touching my skin, let alone the clothing that i want to immediately rip off. It literally hurts to the point of tears just to be alive and physically exist. when this happens i really become sensitive to sound too and i can barely talk and just have to point at things that i want for my darling husband to try to figure out. i was never this bad as a child… i don’t know if the stress’s of adulthood have thrown me into overdrive but just in the last 6 months i have started with these panic attacks (one time a persons child screaming in a store caused one).
I have a VERYYYYYYY touchy freely sentimental husband…… who feels like i don’t love him, who needs attention, who today finally broke down and begged me for some affection and told me that at this point he would take a kiss on the shin if it meant i would touch him. this makes me feel like a horrible person because he is so wonderful and deserves these things…… i also separately have a bad bladder problem where every time i have sex it is like playing Russian roulette with the bladder infection bullet so that REALLY leaves our physical relationship practically nonexistent.
if anyone else has experienced this level of TD to the point of full on panic attacks please i would love to hear from you.
i have found some tinctures from the whole foods store that help with stress, and anxiety/nervousness, and they def help a lot but i think i need a therapist but like stated before, there just doesn’t seem to be much to go on out there.
oh forgot to mention… jewelry COMPLETELY OUT OF THE QUESTION and make up only for my wedding and photos
oh and thanks to Donna for her post, im reading through that link right now and its really the closest mention to what i experience that i have come across.
The last time I wrote make up was at my wedding and the only jewelry I wear is my wedding band. Which I replaced two years ago with a band that I find really tactilely pleasing because I couldn’t wear my original one except for a few hours on special occasions.
Thank you for the great clothing store tip! 🙂 I love tagless clothes. Saves me the trouble of cutting the darn things out the minute I get home.
It’s really interesting that you find deep touch worse than light touch. It sounds like you’re very sensitive to nearly every kind of touch. That has to be hard. It’s very possible that increased stress is making your TD worse. I have days (like when I’m PMSing badly) where I can’t even stand the thought of being touched. In general, my TD used to be worse, but I’ve found some things that work for me over the years and my husband is good at staying within those boundaries.
I wonder if a general anti-anxiety medication might be helpful for you? I’m not a fan of things like “habituation” where you try to get used to types of touch (or other things) that are triggering. But perhaps lowering your overall stress level might help your body naturally step down a level from where it is now. Just a thought. I hope you find some relief, for both your sakes.
Thank you for your thoughts and I’m thinking you might be right. My first major episode happened when unplanned, unannounced guests came knocking at the door at 9:30pm on a Sunday night, then got invited into my home because they were from my husbands church. I had some issued getting some control over this new found issue. And this is the first time I realized that there was such a thing as SD I seemed to have it under control a couple of months later and had a small break from the major episodes but recently it has been coming back on. We did however recently get a notice of demolition on our apartment compels with 4 moths to move, so I’m thinking that you probably hit the nail on the head. It’s hard to sit back and see things from a different point of view when your living it but knowing that there is a connection here could really help me get more control over it.
I hear you with the wedding band thing, thankfully I told my husband before he bought my ring that it needed to be as thin as humanly possible and he did a very good job, but I still can’t wear it constantly.
Yeah wet seal is great! I have about a 40% failure rate at cutting out tags 😦 where I end up cutting the shirt and then it’s just tacky
Oddly enough I love massage therapy, I think that for me there may be a big difference between small pointed deep touch, and confining deep tough. I was in a body brace as an infant for a year to correct hip dysplasia. My dad thinks that that’s the reason I can’t stand tight clothes or similar feelings….
I def agree with the fact that I’m not liking the sound of those desensitizing exercises that I keep reading about, but it seems to be the only recommended approach to treating/ helping SD
I’m still trying to learn and figure myself out… I only learned about SD 5 months ago but knowing that there is THING that explains my oddities helps. As do other peoples stories and experiences! so thank you for your point of view!!!
Wow, I’d say that unexpectedly having 4 months to move out is definitely a possible trigger! 🙂
You mention liking massage therapy. Maybe you could start there as a type of touch that works for you–like offer to exchange mini massages with your husband (when you’re at a manageable level of stress)? Hope that’s not getting too personal, but it might help him feel like you’re not ignoring him in a way that would be enjoyable for you. Just a thought. I really don’t think we have to like all kinds of touch or that it should be a goal for people who have severe TD. It’s sort of like not everyone like all kinds of food so we eat what we like and avoid the stuff we don’t.
that is actually a wonderful idea! thank you! and your def not getting too personal! no worries there. it is refreshing to have some new and helpful ideas about the situation that are sensitive to my situation and feelings! I like your view on not trying to force myself to conform too. I’m hope that letting my husband read this as will help him understand that it’s not just me, that this is a thing, and he can help me work around it. thank you so much for everything!
You’re welcome. I hope it turns out to be helpful. For my husband and I, getting him to recognize that what I was experiencing was a real thing and not his fault, was a big turning point. Good luck with it!
have you theoried any corolation between SD and a weak immune system or just a back for getting sick? I’m trying to figure out what might and may not be related to this core issue. with me, just about any hole I have in my body gets infected on a somewhat normal basis. it’s almost always bacterial, I’m on antibiotics about 6 times a year minimum.
I haven’t seen anyone mention something similar to this but perhaps now that you’ve put it out there, someone else will have had a similar experience and comment here.
As for me, tags and velvet dresses. They always feel good on the outside but terribly itchy inside. Many fights over this growing up.
The back side of velvet is really unpleasant. 😦
Lordy the Seventies, the polyester, shirring elastic. Horrors.
Since having children who identify as boy and girl, I seem to spend a lot of time getting cross that boy’s clothing is just more comfortable than girl’s, right down to the covered knicker elastic.
Luckily girl child got to inherit her brother’s clobber along with my clothing sensitivities.
Polyester was no one’s friend. 🙂 I have a significant amount of men’s clothing in my closet because the comfort thing seems to extend into adult clothes too.
So much empathy for anyone with SPD or ASD, I don’t have aspergers but am extremely tactile defensive, it drove me nuts as a kid and instead of trying to figure out if something was wrong, my mother spent years physically and verbally abusing me because of it and telling me I was being “disobedient”… I just didn’t want to wear all those uncomfortable frilly, dressy clothes and panty hose and yucky, hard shoes! 😦
Just curious if you or anybody else has had trouble with the fact that most shirts have a tendency to twist around? Like when you buy it, the seams will line up properly on both sides of your body (touch symmetry is a big problem for me) but after a few washes, the left seam will want to strech more towards your tummy while the seam on the right side twists towards your back. It’s annoying as hell!! I don’t know if it’s cheap manufacturing or what, but buying tank tops is almost impossible for me too, because the part where the straps meet the shirt never seem to line up properly or be even. So bad!
On the bright side, I have found some solutions to make tactile defensive living easier…one of the main things is avoiding cheaply made clothing, mostly because of the problems mentioned above. The best, comfiest clothes I have are all from festival vendors who just have a small team of people making their clothing with care instead of mass-produced, ill-fitting colthes. The Fairies Pyjamas (http://thefairiespyjamas.com/) are great, as well as Bolli Imports leggings and Nomads Hemp Wear.. Nomads runs a little expensive, but I scored a pair of leggings from them at a thrift store and they are soo comfy. Also drop-crotch harem pants have been my saviour! (lots available on etsy, I know most tactile folk prefer not to shop online but with these babies you pretty much can’t go wrong! 🙂 ) Luckily none of my jobs require me to dress “normal” so I just wear those pants all the time.. over yoga pants if it’s cold. Best, comfiest things ever! Great for lounging around in if you can’t wear them at work. The second biggest helpful thing has been hoop dancing… the full-body contact and rhythm are great for de-stressing and the firm feel of a hoop against the body is very comforting. Hope that helps anybody who struggles with the sensory integration. Love and Light! ❤
It’s so sad when parents don’t understand that sensory sensitivities are real and just assume that the child is being bratty or not trying hard enough.
I’ve never noticed about the shirt seams, but that might be because I like shirts that don’t have side seams (like t-shirts and thermals). And yes to clothing that is made well! I’ll often spend a little more to get something that’s well made because I know that I’ll wear it until it falls apart and I don’t buy a lot of clothing to begin with. Thank you for all of the great suggestions!
“I do know that others have much more severe tactile sensitivities than I do, so perhaps some people experience a response on the level of fight or flight. (If anyone who does can address this in the comments, that would be excellent.)”
I wanted to talk about an incident I had on Halloween this past year. My family dressed up as a Pirate Family and my fiance got me a costume online. I told him it was a bad idea because I have to have my clothes super tight and I have to try things on for other reasons as well. He measured me and looked at the measurements online and said that the small should do. So, he got it. I was dreading putting it on when it arrived so I waited till the night of, dumb idea I know, to put it on. I loved the look of it, it was very old fashion. I put it on and instantly, the heat wave hit me, my heart was racing and I felt like I was going to throw up. The vest was too loose and the tag was digging into my neck and I have no idea what the fabric was but it felt like I had a brillo pad being rubbed on my skin with every little movement. As I told him about the vest he said he would be disappointed if I did not wear it and it was only for a few hours and to …. “just deal with it”. On the inside I wanted to cry. So I sucked it up and continued getting ready and everything I did, touched or looked at made me so angry and frustrated. I wanted to rip it off my skin and the feeling became more anger like then uncomfortable or irritated. I was getting my son ready, and trying to multitask while being tortured is a very bad idea and hard too do, I ended up in a meltdown. I charged at him begging him to let me take it off, I threw myself on the floor and pounded the ground. I cried and screamed and I could not get the shirt off fast enough. (It was laced up the front, he put in so much time doing it too) I eventually ripped it off and I gathered myself up a ball and just cried between my legs. I was upset, embarrassed, frustrated and irritated. I wanted to make him happy which is probably what caused the fight mode to kick in.The torture was too much to deal with for the 15 minutes I had it on, it felt like an hour. I was disappointed in myself for letting my family down. I couldnt do it, to much going on with the shirt, if it was only the tag, i could have cut it off and gone on with my day. Sensory overload!
Good things came of it though. I ended up getting an under dress. It was tight and covered the chest and back enough for me to put the (very loose now vest due to me ripping it off) back on and he tied it as tight as he could and cut the tag off. We had a wonderful time at the Pirate Festival and people thought we looked amazing all dressed up as a family. Though my fiance expressed how he was upset with my actions and he did not understand why I was acting like a baby… I could not explain it either. Now I know.
I also get that way if I am typing at the computer and deep in thought and their is lots of different kind of noises around me. I want to scream and I get angry. I wish I did flight more than I do fight but I think growing up in a house with parents that were not very understanding and who yelled alot, I think its kind of programed in me to have that fight reaction.
I can also agree with you on the touch and the sexual experience. I have actually hit my fiance in the face a few times because all of a sudden I felt threatened. It does not help his self esteem I have been told. I thought it came on from time to time because of the medications I was on (as i was diagnosed with bipolar as a child) but after over a year of being off meds, a month ago I got the same feeling back. It just depends on how often we touch and how he does it. I have told him to “just stop” because I can not take it and “Dont touch me”. I told him once that I did not understand why I felt this way even after not being on medication and I said “sometimes you touching me makes me afraid”. He said “you need help”. Now learning about all this I see that I can tell it is when he touches me lightly. I have told him many times to be more aggressive but he wont always do it. I like pressure and it makes things more safe for me. I am going to show this too him so he can understand why now. I think it will make him feel better about himself once he reads it! I am so glad you wrote about it.
I am afraid of my new wardrobe that my fiance purchased for me online. I lost more weight than I wanted too after my daughter and its been hard to put it back on so I only have a few select clothes to wear that fit and are comfortable.(which is fine with me but whatever) He decided to get me a bunch of clothes for my birthday and because I lost weight that means I am much flatter in the chest and bottom than before. So he researched my body type and matched it to the styles they said would accentuate my body. So this means, open back dresses, dresses that are haltered, shirts that have no need for an undershirt or bra due to the lack of fabric around it. He made sure they were all x-small and that the fabric looked tight and form fitting but I am very unsure about the open and tie behind my neck. We shall see. For now I am going to enjoy my betty boop fluffy pants and my form fitting undershirts. I feel bad that I can not be more feminine for him but to me its not worth my comfort. He wanted to give me nice stuff, and I understand that. I just wish he would understand how serious it is for me to try on clothes. You would think he would have learned from the Halloween incident!
I wrote a lot. I hope you dont mind. Thanks for this post!
Long comments are most welcome! My answers tend to be short lately because I’m struggling a lot with writing/communcating, but I read all of the comments. That Halloween costume situation sounds really stressful so I can see how it would invoke a “fight or flight” type response. It’s good that you were able to find a solution that worked and enjoy the rest of your evening, at least. I’ve had similar feelings of wanting to lash out physically due to sensory distress so I get what you’re talking about. I’m especially snappish when someone bugs me while I’m concentrating on something.
I hope reading this will help your fiance understand more about how your sensitivities impact you and affect your response to his touch. All that rejection without an explanation can be hard on a partner (as my husband has pointed out).
Wow, this post really helped me out and opened my eyes to what must be a lot of my tactile sensory issues. I’ve always been thinking ‘well, I don’t have a lot of these do I?’ but the more stuff I read the more I realize I do, I just haven’t realized it cause I never thought other people didn’t all feel the same way. But reading the beginning of this post about clothing really had me going ‘wow, that’s my feeling all over’. All my life I haven’t liked dresses or any sort of clothing top for girls that isn’t a regular cloth t-shirt. And I always got labeled a tomboy and now that I am older I am just “immature” but it isn’t that I don’t like the way they look or don’t enjoy pretty clothes and looking done up. I admire all the nice different sorts of sweaters & tops my mom buys, I’m envious of my peers looking so sharp in their varied style of clothes. It’s the damned feeling of them. Everything you described, the different fabric, seam lines, high wastes (the only thing is tags don’t really bother me unless they are really intrusive). I always figured every girl felt that way, they just got used to or suffered through it, cause that’s what looking nice costs, and I am just immature.
And now I am seeing other things. I can’t stand when my socks are a little loose on my feet. I am constantly have to pull them up, really tight even so my toes curl, and the part where the heel is meant to be is way up on my ankle, embarrassing if I am wearing shorts cause then you can see that bunch of cloth sticking out of my shoes! ‘M always pulling them up when I am lying in bed. I noticed recently that most people lace up their shoes pretty loosely too. Not me, they have to be TIGHT. To the point that if I am not careful I tie them too tight and after a while blood flow will get cut off. And the tightness has to be the same amount on each foot, or I do them over again until it is right.
Shopping a couple years ago with my mom, aunt and cousin, they ridiculed me because of how I wear my pants. Apparently you are supposed to pull them up all the way over your hips. How can you stand that? I also can’t stand not having some sort of jacket on, no matter how hot it is, and it really helps if I have my backpack on too, which is a style with a strap going diagonally across my chest, with enough books in it that it pulls back. Otherwise I feel like I am floating, light, unrooted to the world, despite trying to dig into the ground. (which is actually the subject of recurring nightmares I have). The digging your knees into a seat in front of you struck me too, cause I have a bad habit of really slouching in my seat in a classroom. Not just cause I can’t sit up straight (although, I admit I have terrible posture) but I notice it is because my legs feels wrong. I want to push them up against the seat I front of me, which I have to do by slouching. Also why I hate sitting in the front row, usually.
Also never know what to do with my arms, I often cross them tight over my chest and look perpetually angry. Or I have this thing when I sort of hook my thumb up under my bra with my arm I am not using (left) and it then hangs sort of as it would as if in a sling, a suspended pressure that feels comfortable. Then my fingertips are really, really sensitive to certain kinds of material or they just feel odd on general and I am always having to tap them against each other, rub them on certain fabrics, or scratch my nails against them.
Sigh, I could go on but this is already way too long and rambling. All this is just sort of new discoveries to me.
When I first started reading about Aspergers there were a lot of things I was sure I didn’t do until I read the blogs of other adults and discovered that not everyone stims like a 5 year old. 🙂 It was amazing to me to find so much stuff I could relate to that wasn’t really mentioned in the books I was reading. So I get a little bouncy spike of joy when I read comments like yours because I never imagined I would be on the other side of those realizations way back when.
I can’t stand pants pulled up over my hips! I feel like I’m being cut in half. I need to wear jeans that are below the waist or just buy my pants a bit large so they hang lower.
Since writing this, I’ve found a few dresses that I like–a really soft sweater dress for winter and a sleeveless snugly tailored black dress for more formal occasions and a sleeveless cotton tank dress for summer casual. It was only after I identified all of my sensitivities in detail that I was able to start shopping for some girly clothes that both look good on me and are comfortable. I don’t have a closet full of them, but it feels good to have a few options if I’m in the mood to dress up. Still, most days it jeans and a t-shirt or thermal shirt.
I was fine with water on my face until I needed contacts. I became so worried about losing them in the shower, I stopped letting the water hit my face. That made me dislike water spraying in my face.
It is my belief women’s clothing is pure masochism. It’s impractical, itchy, cannot-move-or-breathe tight, and downright painful. I’m a proud tomboy shopping from the men’s racks, and I heavily criticize dressy clothes for how restrictive they are. They’re like lady clothes on steroids!
Sleeping under heavy blankets is wonderful. I don’t sleep well when I have only one blanket or just a sheet. (Partially because they keep me from moving during adventurous dreams as much.) What evil person gives you just a sheet to sleep with? It’s bloody cold and very unsatisfying.
Just finding your blog and want to say thank you. I’m meeting with a diagnostic specialist in a couple of weeks to begin the process, after years of questioning what was “wrong” with me, and attributing it to other things. Finally, a series of not so random events, an article on facebook, listening to Temple Grandin, really listening, instead of resisting, and then talking to family members and finding out my nephew is on the spectrum, and that I have brothers with several related conditions including dysgraphia, dyslexia, dspraxia, OCD (me too), and severe to moderate developmental delays. I took the AQ test and scored at 38. I’ve begun to put the pieces together on paper, memories (I’m 53) from childhood of myself and my siblings, and all of the quirky things that I have done that made me feel so out of place, while I was trying to fit in. Then I started reading the stories of other Aspie’s and went between laughing out loud, to wanting to cry with gratitude because another one of the things that I could not explain to someone else, was put into words by another person who has identified as an Aspie. I’ve read Tony Atwood, Rudy Simone, Temple Grandin, and Liane Holliday Willey. Each person has answered another question for me, and had me nodding my head in recognition, seeing myself in their words. Each bit of me I read in their words gives me reason to let go of one more self-judgement of the way that I am in the world. Everything from my acute sense of smell and hearing to social anxiety. I’ve been reading many of your posts this afternoon, and this one, tactile defensiveness, and here I am again. I’ll be showing this post to my husband. Yet again, something I thought was a quirk unique to me, or related to old trauma, is here in black and white. I can’t tell you how often I have judged myself for wiping off a kiss when my husband turns away, and then judging myself for doing so, confused as to why, and hoping that my husband did not see me do it because I don’t want to hurt him, but I can’t stand that feeling on my face or lips. Light touch, you have it, spot on! I want to slap his hands away some days, and I have felt so bad trying to avoid his touch, or telling him to stop. The reverse is to let him continue to touch me because I feel bad about saying stop because the reaction he most often has – shutting down and moving away as though I had said I hated him is so hard to see – and then I feel revolted inside because of my reaction to the light touch. On the other hand, firm touch is my friend for sure. The Armour wear, I love, love love. I discovered how much I love leggings in the past few years and did not understand why. Recently with the cold weather coming on I went out and bought the Target Brand of an armour product long sleeve shirt and it is lightly lined with a very soft fabric. It’s my new favorite item of clothing.Thanks for adding one more level of understanding to my unfolding process. I am so grateful for all of the wisdom that is out there, those who have paved the way for others on this journey of discovery.
You’re very welcome! I’m glad you found it and it’s been helpful.
Tactile sensitivities are probably one of my biggest “things” when it comes to autism. It’s always been a problem and I suspect always will be but learning some little tricks has helped a lot.
Under Armour is the best! I need to check out the lined type that you mentioned. Sounds like the best of both worlds. 🙂
Oh, and as a kid I would pile clothes on the bed and sleep under them. I loved the weight of them. As an adult I still most often sleep best with heavier blankets on top of me, which can be a challenge when going through menopause and all one part of you wants to do is kick off the blankets because a sauna is taking place. Wool and scratchy lace, uck! Same to tags and seams. Thanks again!
I used to watch TV lying under my bean bag instead of sitting in it, so I can relate.
Thanks so much for your replies! I just checked the Target shirt I mentioned. It sells for 19.00 in store and a little less online.
It’s called C9 by Champion® Women’s Baselayer Performance Stretch Long Sleeve Crew. It’s what is called “brushed” inside which makes it really soft. The only thing I can see that might be a challenge is the tag. It’s printed on the back of the neck, but it’s pretty smooth, at least at the moment anyway. Hopefully it stays that way after a bunch of washes.
As an aside, I looked in leaded x-ray vests this morning because I was curious about the weighted vests. They sell for about 130.00 not counting shipping which will cost more because of weight. They had some neat ones with prints on them, as well as plain. I can see me curling up with one of those on my lap. Have to start saving now. Can you see asking for one of those for Christmas 😉
I just noted that the half aprons are less than a full vest too.
Here’s the link for anyone who wants to know more.
I love the leaded vest at the dentist and I’ve heard other folks say that they ask to use it for their whole appointment because it’s so comforting. Do you think there are health concerns with using long term? I see “lead” and get nervous but have no idea if that’s a valid concern.
Also, are you familiar with weighted blankets? They aren’t quite as heavy but I love mine.
Oh fooey, I don’t know why I didn’t think about that. It’s one thing to use a vest for medical procedures, probably completely another to wear one or have it on your person all the time. Back to the drawing board. I’ll look into the weighted blankets or see if I can figure out how to make one. I have seen patterns out there and I have a nice sewing – embroidery machine I have only used a few times, along with a serger – both gifts from my sister.
I believe they use heavy plastic beads to make weighted blankets. They add a certain weight to each quilt section. The recommended weight is 5-10% of your ideal body weight for adults, and 10% of actual body weight for children.
What an eye opener. Thank you so much. I’m not sure what my sensitivity stems from but I can relate to most of what you’ve written and it may be a starting point to figuring it out. I’m online now because I feel utterly claustrophobic and uncomfortable in my clothes and I’ve been swatting and shoving my partner away when he tires to touch me (and then feeling awful about it). That’s quite an extreme reaction for me but I’ve always cut the labels out of my clothes as soon as I get home and the clothing no no’s are my common enemy. I do love certain tight/sturdy things like non scratchy corsets and boots (and a bit of bondage in the bedroom), I guess that makes sense. For me I think inflammation is a major role player, I’m definitely not as bothered if I’m eating an anti-inflammatory diet and living healthily. I’m pretty sure my near panic situation tonight is a result of a stressful day and eating inflammatory foods. Anyway, thank you again, I highly doubt I would have realized this may be part of a bigger picture without someone personally sharing their experience and it’s invaluable to be able to share your post with my partner who got a bit upset at my reaction.
Thank you SO much for this blog! It’s something I’ve really needed because, as a female Aspie marching her way towards middle age, it’s hard to find like-minded people in the the same age group as me! 🙂
I am EXTREMELY touch-sensitive. Growing up in the ’80s meant all the rages for young girls were tight tops, stretch pants, and those Jelly shoes (remember those?) I absolutely hated them. Stretch pants always made me feel like my pants were falling down, and I hated that feeling (Unlike some others here, I have to wear my pants over my hips — no belts, though!) And jelly shoes were tight and pinching and I kicked them off as soon as I put them on. It’s the same reason I can’t wear flip-flops, and I don’t see the big deal in wearing socks with sandals. In the summer, normal shoes smother me, but sandals pinch me. However, by the time I went to junior high and high school in the ’90s, grunge was in, so I was allowed to wear rumpled T-shirts and baggy jeans without anybody saying anything against it! (Even though I hated grunge music.)
I feel exactly like everybody else here. Nicer clothes for Aspie women are just too hard to find. I can’t wear anything too short, stiff, prickly, or scratchy (I wear long-sleeved T-shirts underneath my more uncomfortable shirts.) No high collars, no lace or frilly stuff, nothing too tight or satiny or elastic-y, no jewelry of any kind (even though I was forced to have my ears pierced when I was 11). I have to even wear my hair short, because I can’t stand the feeling of hair on my neck. (My parents don’t understand why I have to cut my hair myself. Nobody else can do it right.) And don’t get me started on those torture devices they call “skinny jeans”!
However, you forgot one more female torture device — SKIRTS. I HATE SKIRTS!!!! Especially the tight, pencil-like skirts women wear nowadays. I can’t stand the feeling of my bare legs rubbing together when I walk, or getting sweaty when I cross them. I suppose I could get away with wearing nicer pants like khakis to church, but then I would have to deal with very disapproving stares from various ladies in my church. So I just endure it as best I can and as soon as I’m home, off goes the skirt and on comes the jeans!
Like everybody else here, I will wear my favorite clothes until they fall off! I even wear the same clothes for several days at a time before they get laundered (I know… eewwww!) And I tend to go braless on days when I don’t have to leave the house! 😉 Sometimes even the normal clothes I wear get to be too much for me, and I get into sweats or pajamas as soon as I get home.
Touch also soothes me. I love soft cuddly things. I sleep with a myriad of teddy bears and stuffed animals, and my cat is constantly irritated with me cuddling her all the time! 🙂 And I have a security blanket, just like Linus in the Peanuts comic strip. I don’t take it anywhere with me, but when I get home I love to wrap up in it and rub it against my face. I hate putting things in my mouth, but my lips and the area around them are especially sensitive and I’m easily calmed by just rubbing something against them. (I kiss things a lot.) I’m not a big fan of deep pressure — it strangles me, but mild deep pressure, such as a hug or light back rub, or my cat laying on top of me is fine.
Well, sorry about the long post. When I get into something I can’t shut up about it!
I have grown used to tags and many other things that I just couldn’t STAND as a child, though the embroidered kind or the ones in the side seams of garments still drive me bonkers. I remember that I hated wearing clothes that clung to my body as a child, it is only in the recent years of my life that I have started to wear clothes that fit properly. I have a hard time finding clothes that fit me anyways because I am such a small man (I stopped growing just after middle school and ended up being stuck right at five nil) if it wasn’t frustration enough to deal with the tactile sensation of my clothes, then I realized that I need to wear things that fit to “look like a grown up” instead of looking like a lost kid wearing hand-me-downs.
I find that I prefer jeans that are pre-worn, such as from a thrift store, because they are already made soft by the previous owner. Because of my size I have a great difficulty in finding things that fit and are comfortable.
I may tolerate tags now, but up until a few years ago I would tear them from my clothes or remove them with a seam cutter. I still can’t stand certain textures like scratchy fibers or seams in my pits. Also, socks… I hated socks so much as a kid and my parents used to have to stand over me to get me to wear them. I still hate sock seams and wrinkles. Several years ago I discovered that if I wore my socks inside out I am able to wear them comfortably.
I always wore super baggy clothes as a kid and HATED jeans with a passion. I still sleep in baggy clothes and tend to wear my pj’s around the house all day, but I dress neatly when leaving the house or working in the yard.
50yo male here trying to understand myself and gradual disintegration of my marriage. Self diagnosed maybe aspergeous. The sensory thing though has resonated with me.
As a kid I remember liking mum to tuck the sheets in real tight. I used to fantasize about having ropes wrap right round the bed tieing me in.
I just thought i was a messed up kinky bast**d. The even weirder part was I loved the feel of plastic. I would check out my friends beds to see who had a plastic bed wetting sheet. If I had a sleep over and the bed had a plastic mattress protector, I would sleep under the bottom sheet right on the plastic. I used to make plastic tops by cutting arm and leg holes in a plastic bag and putting it on like a singlet. These had to be tight. The tighter the better. Sometimes I woukd cover my torso in baby oil just so I could slide it on. All this before puberty. I liked winter because I could wear it under my clothes and no one would know.
As an adult I just thought I had a strange sexual kink fetish. Made the mistake of telling my wife who just adds it to the list of my failings.
i can relate to many of the issues while i do not believe i have autism … but texture on any part of my body can irritate me sometimes i can bear it others i can not bear it at all. when i was a chid i had a cancerous brain tumor now 37yr old and i believe that the three brain surgeries and radiation have long term effects on my body and brain were as my moods even effected… gotta learn to accept it …
Hello, this is an interesting comments section. I have strong aversions to the feeling of cardboard, polystyrene and wool, towels when they go crispy dry, squeaky clean wrinkly bath fingers, certain synthetic fabrics, marker pens squeeking, touching paper with my finger nails etc. There was a recent sock touching incident with socks just out of the dryer, where I tried to pick the socks up but felt like my hands and feet were being electricuted, and I wanted to shrivel up and be sick. I can almost feel it in my mouth, and even thinking about it makes my skin prickle and I shudder. After I stopped wanting to be sick I pulled my sleeves over my hands and lightly grabbed the socks and threw them in the bin, but I could still see them and that made me tingly again.
I am thinking about getting tested for Aspergers as I have always felt different and socially isolated with no clue why. One job I had made me miserable because I hated the lighting and having to touch cardboard and make inane small talk all day long. Usually the stress of working makes me so ill that I stop eating for one reason or another to control my digestive symptoms or so I don’t gain stress weight. so
I think the variable in all my failed social attempts is me, and I wish I knew why, and what people see when they look at me.
My husband and son may have aspergers and as I research it more, I am beginning to connect with it as an identity. So going to get tested, and erase those socks from my nightmares somehow! Lol!