Face touching enabled our daughter to form big bonds with little hands

How exploring our faces promoted Rylae-Ann's sensory development

Richard E. Poulin III avatar

by Richard E. Poulin III |

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As I tried desperately to fall asleep after a long day, my daughter’s fingertips danced around my jawline. They explored over my eyebrows and across my lips. In the morning, her investigation resumed, finding my nostrils and pulling my eyelids open.

My daughter, Rylae-Ann, is diagnosed with aromatic l-amino acid decarboxylase (AADC) deficiency. The debilitating symptoms left her unable to move, but somehow, she would find the strength to place a hand near us as she lay nestled between my wife, Judy, and me.

When she was 18 months old, she was fortunate to undergo gene therapy. One of the first results was an upgrade to her mission of caressing our faces as we all co-slept. At first, we thought it was a characteristic unique to Rylae-Ann, as it was one of the few ways she could communicate with us.

However, after talking with another parent, we found that face touching and even the sometimes naughty behavior of pulling facial hair while sleeping are common occurrences. Young children take up this adorable behavior for many reasons.

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A man lies on a bed with his infant daughter sleeping on his chest. She's wearing a pink onesie while her dad is in a striped polo shirt. He's resting his head on a yellow-green pillow and taking the photo from a low angle.

One of the first ways Richard E. Poulin III bonded with his daughter, Rylae-Ann, was through touch. (Photo by Richard E. Poulin III)

Nightly face touches

Touch is an instinct babies are programmed with from the moment they’re born. For Rylae-Ann, one of the first missed milestones was not reaching out and touching items, including us. We so dearly wanted to feel her touch.

Judy and I would coax her by placing Rylae-Ann’s hand on Judy’s face. The moment the connection was made, there were noticeable giggles and signs of joy from Rylae-Ann. However, this instinctual behavior is not only used to show affection.

Curiosity and exploration

Babies are naturally curious and use touch as a way to explore and learn about their environment. Rylae-Ann is no exception; our faces were the most frequent and often-seen aspect of her world. Between Judy’s face and mine, Rylae-Ann had several different textures, shapes, and temperatures to feel. That was part of her sensory development.

Secure touch

Touch is a comforting and reassuring sensation for babies. Touching our faces may give them a more profound sense of security and closeness, especially if they’re used to being held or cuddled during sleep, as Rylae-Ann required.

One of the biggest reasons for Rylae-Ann’s nightly touches was the sense of security. When we snuggled and were nearby, she slept her best. Over time, she’s learned to sleep alone, but she’s often the first to wake up. Her face-touching routine still continues, except she must walk to our bed first.

A woman lies in bed while her daughter, who looks to be about 3 or 4, is curled up with her head on her mom's chest. The girl seems to be sleeping soundly while the mom is looking at her lovingly.

Rylae-Ann and her mom, Judy, lie intertwined and connected through touch while sleeping. (Photo by Richard E. Poulin III)

Developing bonds

Touch plays a crucial role in bonding. When Rylae-Ann touched our faces, it strengthened our emotional connection and attachment. It promoted the feelings of trust and safety that she would need to overcome her anxiety.

We had to learn her language before Rylae-Ann could speak her first words, and touch was one form of communication. Rylae-Ann communicated her love and trust for us by touching our faces while we slept. Touch was also a way for her to seek attention or comfort and express her needs, such as hunger or discomfort.

Rylae-Ann touching our faces during sleep is a natural and developmental behavior that helps her explore, bond, and communicate with us. This unspoken routine bond was one of the early interactions we had with our daughter. Although I’d much rather enjoy my weekends by sleeping in instead of having my eyebrows tickled, it’s a joy we share on our journey together.

Note: AADC News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of AADC News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to aromatic l-amino acid decarboxylase deficiency.


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