Hein-Chris did not allow me (or anyone) to lovingly touch, kiss or hug him until close to the age of four. Physical touch is extremely uncomfortable for the child with SPD as the brain registers it as imminent and immediate danger. The neurotypical child will find comfort and solace in being stroked, kissed and hugged; the child with SPD will find it intolerable.
Today, Hein-Chris' hugs involve him sidling up to me so we’re standing side by side, and me giving his outside shoulder a little squeeze. For him and I that's huge. Most recently Hein-Chris tolerates a kiss on the top of his head (on his hair) without too much drama - most of the time - but certainly not always.
The bottom line is that it is not fair to expect a child with SPD to dole out kisses and hugs - not even to close family members, including Mommy and Daddy. It is quite literally physically impossible for the child to allow such contact. The child with SPD will translate these fairly intimate, but mostly innocuous exchanges as intensely threatening. Based on my own experience, the child will recall these interactions with revulsion and go to great lengths to avoid similar contact. The child will not be able to interpret his/her intense reaction (nor voice his/her discomfort) and might be plagued by feelings of guilt and shame. The best way to show love and affection to a child with SPD is probably the high five. As far as SPD goes, the high five equates roughly to a bear hug in the neurotypical world.
Adults should not be offended by a child’s choice not to engage in a kiss and/or a hug, but take great pleasure in sharing a high five. Consider yourself blessed that a child with SPD would offer a hand for you to touch. It’s an honour being allowed so deep into his/her personal space.
(As an aside, if you are unfamiliar with a child with SPD, do not respond at all in the event that the child starts fussing or having a meltdown. Do not approach the child. Do not touch the child. Talking to the child will escalate the child's discomfort. Basically your every instinct will most probably be incorrect. You are not doing anything wrong, but you are acting based on principles that apply to a neurotypical child. Leave the child for Mommy, or Daddy, or whichsoever caregiver is around, to deal with. Your best course of action is to do nothing and not judge.)
Third photo gallery courtesy of Taryn van Rensburg Photography