Tactile hypersensitivity is something that I have clearly struggled with literally my entire life. My mother has told me stories of my hatred of lacy dresses even as a baby, and I can remember having a fit when I was four and asked to be a flower girl at my uncle’s wedding because I could not stand the itchy fabric of the dress. A similar situation arose at my cousin’s wedding a few years later, and my mother would later describe the event as a disaster because of the severity of my tantrum. I do not think it would be overreacting to claim that most of the tantrums I had in my early childhood were due to my tactile hypersensitivity. I am extremely sensitive to fabrics and often find that I am quite uncomfortable if I am not wearing something that is cotton. Ever since I was little I have hated the feeling of nylon stockings and refused to wear them underneath my dresses, an act that at the time seemed irreverent to my mother. Velvet has always been an enemy of mine, as the fabric feels to me as if I am massaging a cactus. This sensation was actually one of the defining moments of my diagnosis, as I came across several other velvet-hating Aspies during the course of my research.
An interesting thing about the way I physically feel things is that different parts of my body have varying degrees of sensitivity. While my hands are so hypersensitive that I feel uncomfortable wearing gloves and I cringe at the thought of the feeling of nail files, I barely have any feeling at all in my feet. My face is another extremely sensitive area, while I have a very high pain tolerance in the rest of my body. Human touch can be difficult for me in any case, but I have found that this sensitivity is more based on the element of surprise. If I brush against somebody in the hallway, or if somebody touches me without me preparing myself, it can feel painful and extremely uncomfortable to me. However, if I do prepare myself, I can handle handshakes or hugs or pats on the back. As many parents and professionals have asked me about this topic, particularly hugs and autism, I feel the best way to explain it is to relate autistic children to cats: there are times in which cats love to be pet and cuddled, but at other times they hiss if anybody comes anywhere near them. If an autistic person gives you a hug, it is always okay. If you try to give them a hug, they may not be prepared and it can be quite painful for them. Sometimes the pressure of a hug can be very alleviating for a person with autism, but other times it can be torture.