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Managing Behavior in an Overly Affectionate Autistic Child

March 13, 2024

Having an overly affectionate autistic child can sometimes make it difficult to meet their social and emotional needs. Parents, teachers, or peers may struggle to identify the needs of autistic children, causing the individual to engage in behavior that may feel uncomfortable to some in school or home settings.

For other parents, the behavior can create stress among family members and unknowingly cause parents to decrease engagement with their autistic kids. From an autistic perspective, engaging in clingy or overly affectionate behavior is a way for them to seek out sensory stimulation and express affection among their peers, friends, and family members.

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Understanding overly affectionate behavior in autistic children

Understanding the overly affectionate behavior of kids on the spectrum can help you manage these behaviors better while improving their self-confidence.

A young child with autism wants to have the same bond as other children and may use physical touch to show affection or emotions. Social situations can also cause feelings of anxiety where children may turn to loved ones for comfort in a moment of need. 

An individual with autism may engage in clingy behavior or try to express affection in unusual ways, such as not minding personal space, wanting to be overly touchy, or wanting to kiss and hug strangers. 

Causes of clingy behavior in autistic children

Clingy behavior in children with autism can stem from a variety of factors, but having attachment disorders or difficulties is common in families impacted by autism. A child who is engaging in overly affectionate behavior may be seeking out sensory stimulation.

Deep-pressure hugs could be what they are seeking to provide a sense of comfort. For kids that seek affection, for this reason, a light touch may be just what they need. Back rubs and sensory tools used on pressure points can also help a person seeking sensory input.

A weighted blanket can be utilized at home or school by both parents and teachers to help young people with autism receive the sensory input they are seeking, thus decreasing the need to display overly affectionate behaviors.

Clingy behavior in autistic children may be caused by a desire to connect with others, but they may struggle with understanding social norms and appropriate boundaries. Teaching them alternative ways to engage can help them express affection while respecting personal space.

A young boy hugging his mother
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Tips for parenting an overly affectionate autistic child

To assist an autistic child who’s clingy with family and friends, teach them how to engage and play in ways that help them connect and feel part of the group. For example, instead of hugging, they can ask for a high-five.

A child who wants to kiss people can be taught to blow a kiss. Making eye contact can also get a response in expressing affection while showing you can both engage and support without always having to hug or kiss.

Otherwise, this behavior can create an uncomfortable moment for both their parent and others outside their social circle because they may not know how to react to it.

Talking to your child about what’s appropriate and what’s not can help resolve issues, as they might not fully grasp social expectations. Role-playing and social stories can also ease their anxiety and help them understand how to behave in different situations.

For example, it would be perfectly acceptable to greet a stranger with a hand wave or simple “hello,” but it would not be appropriate to walk up to a stranger and give them a hug or kiss. 

Role-playing and social stories can help autistic individuals recognize emotions better and fit into a world that is not always the most autism friendly.

Understanding and support

Parents can support their kids by understanding why they behave a certain way and giving them personalized support. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes, but providing a safe space for your child to express emotions can help acknowledge and validate their feelings, supporting them on their autism journey.

Not everyone will understand autistic people, so it’s incredibly important to work with your child on their social skills now. After some time, they’ll gain a better understanding of what society expects of them and learn how to manage their emotions.


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FAQs

Q: Can a child with autism be overly affectionate?

A: Yes, a child with autism can display overly affectionate behavior, which may include frequent hugs, kisses, or seeking physical closeness. However, it’s essential to consider individual differences and sensory preferences when interpreting such behaviors.

Q: Why is my autistic child so clingy?

A: Your autistic child may be clingy because they crave connection and struggle with understanding social boundaries. Offering support and teaching alternative ways to engage can help them feel included while respecting personal space.

Q: Do autistic kids have trouble attaching to their parents?

A: While some autistic children may experience challenges with attachment, others may form strong bonds with their parents. The nature of attachment in autistic children can vary depending on individual differences and support systems in place.

Q: Why do autistic kids like tight hugs?

A: Autistic kids may enjoy tight hugs because the pressure provides sensory input that can be comforting and calming to them. Additionally, hugs can fulfill their need for physical closeness and connection, which can be challenging for them to express in other ways.

References:

Attwood and Garnett (2013) CBT to Help Young People with Asperger’s Syndrome to Understand and Express Affection. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London

Coughlan, B., Marshall-Andon, T., Anderson, J., Reijman, S., & Duschinsky, R. (2019). Attachment and autism spectrum conditions: Exploring Mary Main’s coding notes. Developmental Child Welfare, 1(1), 76-93. https://doi.org/10.1177/2516103218816707 

Increasing the appropriate demonstration of affectionate behavior, in children with Asperger syndrome, high functioning autism, and PDD-NOS: A randomized controlled trial https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1750946713001815 

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