When a baby is first born, the doctor puts them on their mom’s chest to relax them. When they feel their mom’s skin and hear her heartbeat, they feel safe.
We have two types of nervous systems, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic, which is also called the “rest and digest” system, is responsible for making you relax. When you hug a person, you stimulate the parasympathetic system so the person relaxes.
But what happens when you have a differently-abled child who can’t bear being touched? How will this child react to the world if they never have physical contact with another human?
I never thought of the importance of physical contact, whether a handshake or a hug or a kiss or even a pat on the shoulder. Close your eyes and imagine that you’ve never been touched before, what does that do to your nervous system? You are operating only on the sympathetic nervous system, which is in flight or fight mode. You’re anxious all the time, thinking all the time; can’t sleep or eat. It’s a living hell.
There are reported cases of newborns who were going to die, and the doctors were hopeless. But when those babies were held by their moms, or had skin-to-skin contact with another human, their immune system got better, and their chance of survival increased.
I’ve been suffering with Tala since she was born that she never sleeps through the night. She wakes up every hour or two and starts to be very restless. We had to massage her and apply deep pressure to relax her and let her sleep. We tried everything, waking her up early and not letting her take naps. We tried taking her out all day so she would get tired and fall asleep, but nothing seemed to work. It’s very frustrating to everyone; it affected her health, and her behaviour as well.
Until one day, I came across a video on Facebook explaining why autistic children go through “stimming” behavior, which is basically doing things in a repetitive manner, like spinning around in circles, or asking the question six times, or flapping their hands. It’s how they relax their nervous system because they can’t be held or touched, so they are agitated all the time and that’s how they compensate for that.
I started reading more on the subject, and decided to try the spinning thing with Tala and see if it works. So I turned on music before she sleeps and asked her to dance with me, and started swirling her several times. She loved it. Although it made her dizzy, she kept asking for more and that night was the first night in five years that Tala actually slept through the night.
Never in my life have I thought that a hug can go so long. That holding of someone’s hand when they cry might be all the help that they need. I used to think yes it shows affection, and it shows love and care.
But I never thought we couldn’t actually survive without it. Survival is a very difficult process. Your body does a lot of work for you; appreciate that and nourish it. Hug your kids, hold them tight; kiss them. You’re not just helping them emotionally. You are actually boosting their immune system, and their digestive system. You make their bodies work more efficiently.
I learnt a lot from Tala. Every day she makes me appreciate something new that would have never crossed my mind without her. This is what I call “The Tala effect” in my life.
Lots of love and kisses, and hugs in the air.
Rola Moemen started her blog The Tala Effect and Facebook page Mother of a challenged kid to share her experience in attempt to spread awareness and encourage other parents to share theirs.