May 7, 2021

Skin contact and sleeping in autistic people

By rosieweldon

Autism and touch is a complicated and intense topic. Autism and sleep is a complicated and intense topic. So, what happens when one directly affects the other?

A big disclaimer with this blog that touch and sleep are so different autistic person to autistic person, this is just based on my own experiences of the two and the connection between them.

I am touch averse to everyone except a very few number of people, predominantly my younger brother who I helped raise, my partner and her children. Pretty much everyone else on the planet causes me distress if they touch me, with that varying depending on level of familiarity.

But with this strange relationship with touch came a gift of connection with my partner. Her touch calms me and reassures me in ways I never thought possible. I live with a manic mind that constantly fights its way through. It goes up against sensory issues and communication struggles constantly, every day. But contact with my partner calms the storm.

I have helped raise a beautiful little (autistic) boy who very much needed skin contact to fall asleep. This can be incredibly frustrating as a caregiver because not only does he need you in the room, but he needs to be right against you (or on top of you, or his foot in your face or, well you get the point – he needed to be as physically close as he could). But I could always see that he would try really hard to sleep without the contact, but just couldn’t.

I never understood it fully until now. So, I write this blog predominantly for the parents out there struggling with children that need skin contact to sleep.

I am 29 years old (almost 30, ahh!) and I really struggle to sleep without skin contact with my partner. I’m going to try and explain what it feels like with and without the contact, but it is obviously very difficult to put it into words.

Prior to sleeping next to my partner, I have always struggled to sleep. When I started work, I was frequently falling asleep at 2am and getting up at 6am for work. Try as I might I just could not sleep. Then I started sleeping next to my partner. As much as my days are intense with a busy family life, I began sleeping a million times better. A few minutes of skin contact with my partner and I can feel the weight lift off my mind. My mind literally feels different. I feel it switch. At this point I generally roll over and can sleep easily. I need that contact to put my mind into a safe place to sleep. It’s like it transitions me from the day into sleep. A transition I can’t do myself in anywhere near that time frame.

When I don’t have that contact it is like my mind hits a wall. This can go one of two ways. If it has been an intense day, I can hit an emotional meltdown. I get worked up and can’t bring myself back down. It’s like my mind tries to transition and instead falls of a cliff and I lose control of it. It’s a horrible feeling and I hate it. Once I lose my mind at that point it takes hours to come back down. The other way, which I’m slowly getting better with, is distraction. This doesn’t help me sleep quicker, it takes hours normally, but it does mean I don’t have to go through the horrible emotional meltdown bit. (I generally watch something on my phone).

I hate that I either have to have contact to bring me down or end up exhausted. I hate that I can’t just get into bed and sleep without some barrier in my way. And I am certainly embarrassed and ashamed of the whole thing. But I want to share my experience and understanding so parents can understand this aspect of children more, especially autistic children that may be struggling to bring their minds back down.

I feel the switch. I know when I am okay to sleep after the transition has happened.

Please have patience with autistic people. Life really is one battle after another for us, even when we are just trying to sleep.  

Found this blog helpful? You can support my writing and say thanks by buying me a coffee 🙂