touched

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We are in the middle of a party. People are chatting, swimming, eating, laughing.

Brooke is sitting on a step stripping a stick.

This is what she does. She forages for bits and pieces of branches whose bark she can pull clean off, revealing the tender wood below the surface. Her fingernails dig into the soft bark again and again, then pull it back in chunks.

Someone walks over to our step to say hello. She bends at the waist, looming over Brooke.

Brooke doesn’t look up. She doesn’t stop stripping her stick.

Dig. Pull. Dig. Pull.

Our visitor reaches out a hand and cups it below Brooke’s chin.

I freeze. Oh God.

She uses the hand to pull Brooke’s head up by the jaw.

A thin line of panic starts somewhere deep. I know that Brooke is going to scream. 5,4,3,2 …

She does scream, but not in the way that I expect.

“I HATE BEING TOUCHED!!” she shouts.

I am flabbergasted.

Words. Self-awareness. Communication. Self-advocacy.

I know the sentence will need to be reformatted. But I am drenched in pride.

I turn to Brooke. “Great job telling us how you feel, Brooke. Really great job.” I hope that my words send a message to both of them. I stand with my girl.

Our visitor is undaunted.

“I just want to see that beautiful face,” she says. “Lift up for me.”

I am stymied by etiquette. By deference to our host. By generational difference. By convention.

Brooke is not.

She lifts her head as instructed. And growls.

On the way home, Katie points out an important distinction. ‘Brooke, you actually DO like being touched. Just not by people you don’t know. Cause if you didn’t want to be touched at all, then Mama couldn’t hug you. See?’

We spend the ride practicing.’Please don’t touch me. I don’t like when you do that.’

I remember being touched by strangers as a very small child. The pats on the head that brought my shoulders to my ears. It was like nails on a chalkboard. Violating. Patronizing. Wrong.

My daughter is not a very small child. She is nine years old. In two weeks she will be in fourth grade. She doesn’t interact the way one would expect a nine year-old to interact. She babbles. She talks about Blue’s Clues and Elmo. She is petite. She is slight. She peels sticks at parties. She is autistic.

She is nine years old.

She has every right not to be touched by strangers without warning. Or consent.

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39 thoughts on “touched

  1. Well done Brooke! You tell them how it is!

    I remember being her age and hating being touched. Even now, D is the only person in the world who has ever been able to touch my face or legs without me panicking and lashing out, and only certain people are able to hug me. I can’t let a new (to me) doctor examine me without D there either – not until that doctor has proved that I can trust them completely.

    Autistic or not, invading someone’s personal space unexpectedly is always wrong. Strangers touching my son without permission always got growled at while he was growing up – by me.

  2. I completely agree with Brooke. Being touched by strangers is a complete violation and makes most people truly uncomfortable. Katie was correct in saying that she does like to be touched but selectively by people she knows and loves. ’Please don’t touch me. I don’t like when you do that.’ That should work.

    Love you,
    Mom

  3. The person who needs some teaching here is the one who man-handled your child. Yikes. For goodness sake, if a co-worker wasn’t looking you in the eye, would you ever grab his/her chin and pull her face up? NO. Not unless you were looking for a physical confrontation, anyway. Brooke’s response was completely appropriate. Personally, I would have had a hard time not shoving that person to get her away from me. Good for Brooke for being able to verbalize her feelings!!

  4. My son did something very interesting the other day. He is on the spectrum, about 2 1/2 and has a vocabulary of about 6 words and a few signs. I was snuggled next to him on the couch and I being very affectionate with my kisses on his head. He swatted me on the face and I said “No hitting, I’ll get out of your face. Be gentle.”
    Then he looked me straight in the eye, did the sign for gentle on my cheek (something he’d never done before). I said, “Okay, I was being too in your face, mommy is sorry.” I scooted away to give him some space. He scooted me back and gently pushed my head backwards away from him. He was showing me that lap snuggling was okay, he just didn’t want that intense “in your face” contact.
    I really appreciated that. I always try to ask if it’s okay to kiss him or hug him, but being a mommy sometimes I DO get carried away. That was the first time he showed me so clearly what was working and not working for him with personal interaction. It was a proud moment, but of course some people are horrified to hear a story that starts out “So I’m really proud my son hit me yesterday. . . ”
    So glad Brooke is learning to advocate for herself.

  5. It always baffles me how people think touching a child without permission is ever ok. I’m not sure I wouldn’t have growled too. So proud of Brooke for speaking up for herself; it may not have been in the same manner thatnyoumor I might have done, but that she did it is vital. It will serve her well.

  6. Good for Brooke for using her words! And I agree with Missus Tribble. As an adult who doesn’t like being touched unexpectedly, invading someone’s space without out warning is not okay, invading it twice is unacceptable.

  7. I have reacted the same way Brooke did when people attempt to touch Jim. With him being on the spectrum, I am very aware of his reaction to being touched, and a stranger touching him has a 50% chance of him reacting with violence. So proud of Brooke being able to say, that she does not like being touched.

  8. I love this. I love that Brooke was able to defend herself against an unwelcome touch by using her words. Definite undeniable progress. Good job, Brooke!

  9. WTG BROOKE!!!! So much awesomeness in her response – and your self control. My mama instinct would have been to tackle that ingoramus for touching my child. I almost did just that, once.
    And the growl???? Perfection. Can you leave it in after the new sentence you’re teaching her? Please?!?!
    And Katie? Always with the brilliant insights, that one. Your girls are both so amazing.

  10. I think Brooke handled that invasion of space amazingly well. I would have growled, too. You have 2 amazing daughters…they are lucky to have each other…and a mom like you who lets them learn from each other…nothing short of awesome.

  11. I have always taught my children that they do NOT have to allow kisses and “touch” from others when it makes them uncomfortable… It’s such an important lesson and even more so for our little ones who sometime don’t have the words to say it, so way to go, Brooke! Tell it like it is!!

  12. Wow! Good for Brooke using her words! That IS a big deal — especially, given the extremely uncomfortable situation. I’m also more of a touch-me-not and I can totally sympathize with the reaction… I can think of lots of times as a kid where I would have loved to have shouted “don’t touch me!”

  13. We had to work on MacKenzie’s words too and I informed a couple of my aunts who were repeat violators, that she will hug you, but please do not try and kiss her on the cheek or lips. McKenzie used to hate being around certain family members until we had “the talk” with them. Made things happier for all.

  14. alright. that is just freaking awesome. and so are you and luau because that girl of yours is going to be just fine. she’s strong and able to convey what she doesn’t want and i can’t tell you how much that makes me smile.

  15. WTG Brooke! Moving from screaming to using words is a huge step! And shame on the visitor for thinking it was okay to touch Brooke like that. She’s a child, but her personal space is just as important as anyone else’s!

  16. I remember my daughter at about 16 years of age saying to a young man that was about to grab her, “Anything that you touch me with, you won’t get back so you better think about it before you reach out…” It sounds like Brooke is just a younger version of her mother, doesn’t it?
    Love you,
    Dad

  17. Great job Brooke. We’ve taught the same phrase to my daughter along with “May I have some privacy, please” for when she wants to be left alone. Ii’s enabled her to set her own limits.

  18. Right on and Exactly! My son doesn’t like people touching without his go-ahead, and no one has that right to push themselves onto him – ever! Fantastic job Brooke and Mom :)

  19. I wish all girls, boys, and women were able to say Brooke’s words as clearly as she did. You keep on owning your beautiful body and right to decide who is allowed to touch you or be in your personal space, Brooke!! Bravo for finding the words to say it.

  20. I also have a 9-year-old daughter with autism. Great post. I wish I could get my little one to self-advocate like that with strangers. She does it quite well though with her brother.

  21. Pingback: Permission to touch denied

  22. Great job using your words Brooke. Just a little refinement like mama said. We work on the same thing! “Please don’t touch me”. What a great first step! Hurrah!

  23. No child, autistic or not, should have to be touched without permission but that doesn’t mean we should belittle the person who did it because they may truly not have realized what they were doing was unwelcomed. Brooke did well vocalizing and hopefully teaching this person to also vocalize and ask if it is ok to touch someone. She felt Brooke was beautiful and wanted to see her beautiful face. Her heart was in the right place, just not her hands. As tiring as it can be educating others each day it can be such a wonderful ripple effect when we do.. Now maybe this person will share with another person how important it is to ask before touching… Keep up the good work Brooke!! (and Katie)

  24. I’m so proud of Brooke! What a huge accomplishment for her to be able to speak up for herself, and good for you for backing her up. Of course your host meant well, but I doubt she’ll make that mistake with Brooke again. Yay, Brooke!!!

  25. Way to go, Brooke! My ADHD/SPD 7yo son did something very similar the other day, and I was over the moon. He has always lashed out at other children when they invade his space, although it’s gotten better as he’s gotten older. But the other day a 2yo he was playing with kept touching him, as they tend to do. For the first time ever he said “I don’t like being touched.” It was the first time he had ever verbalized that, which means he’s finally developing a sense of self in that respect. Like Brooke, he enjoys touch from certain people in certain situations. And like Brooke, we’re going to have to work on phrasing. But can I just say that I love that she growled at the woman? That made me laugh!!! Love our kids! They’re awesome!!!!

  26. Good for you standing up for your child’s right to control her own body. There are far too many people who don’t get this, and don’t seem to worry about people (even therapists) invading a person’s space. It a very good way to provoke a meltdown or overload,

    Empasizing my own right to control my own body is something I’m eternally grateful to my own mother for. From the time I was little, she’s say, “Nobody has the right to touch in a way you don’t feel comfortable with. Never be afraid to say no. It’s YOUR body not theirs.”

    Thank you for supporting that for your daughter.

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