Along with the leaves, the crisp air and everything pumpkin flavored, tis the season for germs too. We've already had one stomach virus, three colds, a sore throat, and a horrific cough that I immediately assumed was the first east coast case of Enterovirus D68 (My parents actually called to see if I was "aware" of this horrifically contagious virus. Silly parents.) that has been plaguing the mid-west. Thanks to all these nasty little germs, when the seasons change, sadly, so do my kisses. That's when my full smack them on the lips kisses quickly morph into, at best, a kiss on the cheek, or during a serious stomach virus outbreak, perhaps a quick peck on top of the head (as long as no vomit hit the top of their head) or a butterfly kiss to a fairly germ free area, like the elbow.
When kids are little, they love smooching you right on the lips, germs be damned. And it's cute and adorable and you enjoy it (germ spreading and all) because you know it wont' last forever. The kisses, the snuggles, the hugs, will change as quickly as the seasons. They may become fewer, less publicly displayed, given only in exchange for a bribe, or disappear all together. The love that was once behind the kisses may feel like it changes too and I guess in a way it does, but, it does not make the love or the kisses any less real.
I have always been a snuggler. Many days my lips would be chapped form kissing the tops of my babies sweet smelling heads. Each of my kids were smooched and suffocated with my love equally. When Ryan was little, before we heard The A Word, my friend Denial would assure me that my worries of "something being wrong" with Ryan were ridiculous because Ryan loved to be snuggled and smooched. Denial was right, Ryan did love snuggles by someone he trusted, someone he knew, but, it took years for those snuggles to be reciprocated. Years until those sweet chubby arms found my neck, and even longer until those sweet tiny lips found my cheek. I hoped upon hope that one day, my snuggling would be returned, but, while I waited, I kept on kissing, hugging and snuggling. It was so worth the wait.
One time, Ryan's Occupational Therapist, Miss M noticed my little smooch to Ryan's cheek that he immediately tried to rub off with the palm of his hand. I hadn't noticed Miss M observing us because by then, I had grown use to this behavior and tried not to take it personally (uh-huh, right). So, I was surprised when Miss M explained that it was the light touch of my kiss that caused Ryan discomfort, so in order to remove the "feeling" of my soft, tickly, feeling kiss, Ryan would apply deep pressure to his cheek to sort of counteract the light touch of my kiss.
There are weighted vests, weighted blankets, weighted shirts for kids and adults with an ASD that offers them the deep pressure their sensory system so desperately craves. Many experts believe that the reason many kids and adults with an ASD love water is because water provides that feeling of deep pressure, the sensory input their nervous system needs to help calm them down or just to make them feel better.
It is this same deep pressure need for Ryan that has caused our kisses to change as quickly as the seasons. The easy, gentle kisses of childhood have been carried away with the summer sun. They have been replaced with kisses that border on a take your breath away, knock you over, strip all the final leaves off the trees, winter time nor'easter. When I go to kiss that teenage cheek, in order to get that deep pressure feeling Ryan's sensory system craves, Ryan pulls the back of my head and firmly pushes my kiss so tightly against his cheek, I am almost knocked over. I laugh and tell Ryan he is going to suffocate me or break my nose, and he eases his grip and starts giggling. Ryan understands that my kisses reaffirm my love for him. Ryan may not need or want that kiss, but, he knows it's something Mommy loves to do. So, although a kiss to the cheek may not be what Ryan needs to understand my love, I am fortunate because Ryan has found a way to tolerate my kisses. I just need to take a deep breath, get my balance, and have an Ear Nose and Throat doctor on standby, before going in for a goodnight kiss.
This is why, even though Ryan no longer kisses my cheek ("Your skin tastes gross", and yes, I have tried numerous lotions and they all make my skin "taste gross"), I am grateful for any stolen kiss I can give to him, even if those kisses almost break my nose and lead to a slight loss of oxygen. So, regardless of the change of season, and what germs may be silently lurking in my house, I will happily risk a 48 hour bug for a 10 second deep pressure, possible cervical vertebrae misalignment kiss, to give Ryan and me what we both need to feel happy, calm and loved.
If the Philematologist I contacted earlier is reading this post, please disregard my call. Like so many things on this autism journey, Ryan and I figured this out on our own.