Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Little Boob Man

The robin’s red breast isn’t the only one that’s shows itself in spring. With the warm weather, or even just the tantalizing hint of it, everyone is enticed to shed bulky sweaters and wear lighter clothes with open necklines that of course leaves women’s cleavage exposed. And this is more than my 8-year-old son can resist.

He is a certified boob-man. I’d be horrified of course to hear my 3rd grader described this way if I did not completely understand how his desire to grope is just another behavior tied to his autism-related sensitivities. He is a sensory seeking little guy. He always has been. And one of his first comforts in this world was to be held tight against me; my arms wrapped around his back as he pressed his little head up hard beneath my chin, dug his feet into my thighs and deep pressure held his body against my chest — night after night, this seemed the only way I could coax my baby to sleep. From the very beginning, comforting him has been an exhaustingly physical experience.

But as he grew older, the comfort he found by diving beneath my shirt into the warm, fleshy places on my body, preferably between my breasts, was becoming, problematic. He seemed to be constantly fighting for first base whether at home or in public. It was something he’d simply have to learn to resist.

He learned. Each year, we continually offered either appropriate substitutes or social boundaries. We gave him handfuls of Play-Doh and squishy balls to squeeze to his hearts content. When his hugs became too long and uncomfortably physical, we limited the length of time he would be allowed to hold an embrace. When his hugs became too frequent and excessive, we then explained he would be limited to only three hugs from non-family members a day. All these lessons were intended not to entirely squelch his sensory needs, but to help him understand that he must find a way to satisfy them in socially appropriate ways. After all, a toddler may be able to get away with a clumsy hug that finds his hands in surprising places or his head in motorboat position, but at age eight, soon to be nine, if allowed to continue, the boy might very well get slapped one day. He had become quite stealth about it, but he was that egregious.

And he’s been doing great. He really has. But in the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded how hard he works every day to control these impulses of his. And with the coming of Spring, he’s been hugging more, with such tight exuberance, as his Mom, its hard to resist it myself, but then on Friday, he did it ... I saw him openly grope a friend's irresistible Double-D’s.

“I’m so sorry!” I pleaded as embarrassed as ever, and then with as much calm as I could muster, I turned to C.S., “Outside in the hall now, Bud. We need to talk.”

It was a lesson for me. I could now so plainly see that although he gains control over his sensory issues, it is not something 2mgs of medication, social skills classes or therapies will “cure.” These many impulses, to flap his hands, to run and hide and even to dig his hands deep into warm, motherly flesh, are always with him.

Silver Lining: I get deep, amazing hugs from my C.S. To him, I promise, hugs with me are absolutely without time or number limits. And I am glad to think hugs are something my child will never outgrow, never resist, something I can count on receiving enthusiastically with every daily greeting. Oh, but I do worry as we enter the tweens and teens...

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