Several years ago I came up with the idea that we need to hug Daniel more, and that we need to hug him for a good, long time when we do hug him.
I came up with this idea after I read that autistic children who are given nasal injections of oxytocin became more social for a while. Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone,” because it’s associated with feelings of love.
It has been shown that many autistic children have low oxytocin levels. When you increase oxytocin levels, many of their social behaviors improve. Since oxytocin is made naturally in response to skin-on-skin touch, I began making sure I held and hugged Daniel more—which has had a remarkably positive effect. We also noticed that if we hug Daniel when he is most upset, he calms down.
Of course, hugging an autistic child isn’t necessarily the easiest thing in the world to do. It’s not uncommon for autistic children to resist being touched, let alone hugged. But of course, if you don’t hug or touch them, you won’t be able to build up their oxytocin, and that means the effects of low oxytocin will continue. So it’s worth the effort to get those hugs in. And the more you hug them, the more they’ll let themselves be hugged.
The key is that you have skin-to-skin contact, and the hugs need to last at least 20 seconds, as that is what stimulates oxytocin production. Even holding hands for more than 20 seconds will get the oxytocin flowing.
Daniel’s social anxieties are fairly mild. And Daniel is increasingly likely to look at you when you talk to him. I am convinced hugging him more has helped. I have seen the behavioral changes. He will always have them to a certain degree, but if Daniel can overcome some of these social issues, while retaining the benefits of autism, Daniel should have a great life. Hugs definitely help.