Autistic Moments – Don’t Touch My Hair

I’ve noticed that in life, if there’s something unusual about a person, other people will want to touch them. They often won’t ask permission, and sometimes even if they do, they do so while in the middle of doing the thing they’re asking permission for. I don’t quite understand why others have this urge to touch strangers around them, but it gets very, very annoying.

Sometimes I’ll be standing in line somewhere like the supermarket, feel something move behind me, and turn around to find my hair in some stranger’s hands. This has happened enough times that it doesn’t even surprise me anymore. I’ve had waiters/waitresses sneak up behind me and start petting my braid, women grab my braid while I’m standing in line for the bathroom, and even groups of people surround me and start passing my hair around in their hands like a braided joint.

If I were a neurotypical person, I think this would be incredibly annoying and invasive. As an autistic person, I have to suppress the urge to violently swing around and roundhouse kick my space invader in the face because strangers touching me (especially by surprise) triggers a fight or flight instinctive response. My body tenses, I feel panic in my chest, I have to sometimes slip into meditation breathing to remember that I’m not actually in danger. Then I have to pretend to be nice, because apparently if I don’t want strangers touching me, I shouldn’t choose to be different (yes I have actually been told that before by multiple people). I plaster a smiling mask to my face and answer the repetitious questions everyone has.

Yes, it’s real. No, I don’t want to donate my hair. Because I like it on my head.

I’ve been growing it for eighteen years. No, I am not eighteen years old.

It is four and a half feet long when open. I sometimes trim it, but never cut it.

I wash it in the shower. With shampoo, conditioner, and water. Like everyone else.

I go to the bathroom just like everyone else and it doesn’t get in the way. Why would you ask a stranger how they go to the bathroom?

fighting stance

It does feel a bit like an attack whenever I’m out in public and get subjected to random pawing. I like my personal space. I can barely stomach hugs if I’m not already comfortable with the person I’m hugging. Having people surprise me by touching me drives me crazy in a very bad way. The worst part is how they always seem to ‘mean well’. I tell myself, they’re just curious, it’s fine. My hair is very unusual, and they’ve probably never seen something quite like it in person before. If it’s a kid, I don’t even really mind because kids are usually adorable – and they are actually the ones more likely to ask permission first. But adults should know better.

If you see someone who’s physically different in some way, don’t follow your instinct to immediately put your hands on them. For one, it’s really rude and invasive, but you also have no idea what sort of tolerance they have for that type of thing. They could be autistic, and having a stranger touch them could trigger fight or flight instincts. Don’t be responsible for traumatizing people who dare to leave the house while looking different. The day is already a minefield for us. Don’t be a mine. Being touched by strangers should not be the tax people have to pay if they keep their hair a way that you don’t, whether they have unusual colored hair dyes, curls, are black and have natural hair, or even if it’s just that their hair is longer than average. If you feel you really want to touch someone’s hair, tattoo, nails, or anything else, always ask permission. And if they tell you no, accept their choice without being offended as if you’re owed the right to lay your hands on someone. You’re not.


Has anyone else experienced this sort of thing? How do you handle it?

Like, share, comment, and/or follow to show support! You can also find me on facebook as Some Girl with a Braid, or on Twitter @AmalenaCaldwell.


Autistic Moments - Don't Touch Me

Picture text:

Space Invader: (grabs my hair) Oh wow! Your hair is so long!

Some Girl with a Braid: Do I know you?

Space Invader: I just had to come over! Your hair’s so long!

Some Girl with a Braid: Alright. And do you normally sneak up behind strangers and grope their hair? At what point while I was standing here did you get the message that I wanted you to touch me?

Space Invader: So can I touch your hair?

Some Girl with a Braid: Gee, nice of you to ask. NO.



5 thoughts on “Autistic Moments – Don’t Touch My Hair”

  1. I’m autistic too and I often try to guess what wouldn’t bother a neurotypical person — but I get it wrong. I think I shouldn’t mind being touched by strangers because neurotypical people wouldn’t make a fuss — but it’s wrong and it leads me to putting up with bad things. They train us not to make a fuss from such an early age and we learn that we’re over-sensitive and that we should just suck it up because we get upset and people don’t understand why. I’ve put up with abuse because I thought it was “just me making a fuss about something a neurotypical person wouldn’t make a fuss about”.

    You’re right that it happens to most people with a difference: people want to touch stranger’s long hair and pat stranger’s pregnant bellies and want to pet black people’s hair and want to rub their hands on people’s shaved heads or grab people’s wheelchairs. It’s common but it’s not okay. Strangers don’t have any right to touch you or your stuff.

    It always takes me by surprise when it happens to me and I don’t know how to react and I freeze up but I think it’s important to practice saying “hey keep your hands to yourself” so the words will be there when I need them.


    1. You don’t have to put up with something that upsets you just because you think it wouldn’t upset a neurotypical. Regardless of whether it would or wouldn’t, we’re not them and we have a right to our own unique way of being comfortable and happy, whatever that means for you.
      I can relate to freezing up though. The comic I made is more of wishful thinking because I never have the courage to say that to a stranger since I know it’s considered rude, despite the fact that they’re the ones invading my personal space first, which I consider rude. I probably need to practice some “please don’t touch me” lines myself. I do practice saying things I know I’ll have to say in front of a mirror sometimes. It’s definitely useful.


  2. Although it breaks my heart that Mimi won’t let me braid her hair or touch it other then to put it into a pony tail I completely respect that this is one of her things. This made me giggle a little because you sound a lot like Mimi when it comes to your hair 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not autistic (that I’m aware of), but I do have hair that reaches my knees.

    Has anyone else experienced this sort of thing?: More often than I would have guessed. People have petted my braid, admired it, showed it off to their friends, then walk off, all without once acknowledging that the hair was attached to a living, breathing, human being. I’ve had people waiting in their cars, in line at an entrance to a park, yell at me across the street about how I should donate my hair and call me selfish for actually wanting to keep it.

    How do you handle it?: I… didn’t? I was so caught off guard by these egregious breeches of etiquette that I stood there, frozen, hoping my suddenly blank brain would think of something better (and with the car guy, I kind of laughed and waved).

    You are not alone. You’re not “making a fuss” by not wanting strangers to paw at you. I don’t think neurotypical people want strangers pawing at them either (pregnant women certainly don’t). I think they don’t make a fuss because they are just as baffled as you are and are busy trying to decide if roundhouse kicking the offender is more or less socially acceptable than the pawing

    The people doing the pawing? They are the ones being weird and atypical.


  4. I am thin and people pinch my arms all the time. I was shopping for my wedding dress when the salesclerk circled my arm in her fingers and yelled to her coworker, “Come see how little her arms are!” That was too 0much. I asked her if she pinches the arms if overweight customers and tells them how fat they are.

    I don’t think most women appreciate comments about their weight, but folks seem to assume you don’t mind if you aren’t fat.

    I’ve also got long hair, and yeah – all of the above. Most often it’s “isn’t it a lot of trouble to take care of?” (No, if it was I would cut it) and the assumption that I will cut it anytime now just because I am an older woman. Sigh.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: