friendship without touching!

This is one of the important facets of the work we do at together life skills centre with our young adults with autism. We encourage them to express their affection for a parent or a co-worker or a volunteer or a visitor by engaging in a shared activity. We teach our students to approach a person they like and invite that person to paint or cook or listen to music together.Some of the things we do include;
1. Sit next to a person keeping a one cushion distance between chairs. We have a cushion for the student to actually execute the space till he or she generalises it.
2. The student with the help of a third person brings an activity out and approaches the parent or volunteer and says ‘be with me’. This works well with non-verbal children too with the simple sign of interlinked hands.
3. They both sit together and complete the activity and end it with a simple hand-shake or a high five.
4. During this time, we ensure that the student is not disturbed.

Our youngsters with autism often do not understand the boundaries of touch. I often see a parent shooing away her grown son or daughter in a public place ‘Don’t do that’, ‘Sit properly’. The same youngster often goes too close to a peer or a care-giver in an effort to get his or her attention. Instead, if we help them choose an activity of their choice and engage in it with a person they like, we are giving them an acceptable alternative to spending time with that person. The result; you have a young adult who feels empowered that he or she has chosen an activity, engaged with a friend and got the time that he or she wants with that person. Yes, the experience is not equivalent to the warmth of a hug or a cuddle but our young people are growing up. They have to learn to enjoy closeness and friendship without touching. This will help them prepare for adulthood and integrate with people.