This post is part of an ongoing series about the little things I’ve developed and discovered over the years to help me to regulate my overactive sensory system and concentrate on other things. Part 1 is Socks and Autism.
As any parent of a particularly sensitive youngster can attest to, trimming your child’s nails can be one of the most harrowing experiences of the week (month). If your child is anything like I was when I was younger, trimming the claws that develop at the ends of their fingers and toes down to a reasonable length is a harrowing experience to say the least. I used to yell, squirm, scream, and cry hysterically, often in full meltdown mode, despite my parents’ constant assurances that it wouldn’t hurt my nails, that they were dead there, and this was just to trim it off so they didn’t grow super long.
I HATE long nails – I’m a pianist, and I hate the clicking when I hit the keys. I also hate accumulating dirt and junk under them – that is utterly gross. But despite my constant desire for short, clean nails, the act of actually making them short was pure, sheer torture. Even after I got used to the clippers on my finger nails and could sit (relatively) quietly for those, trimming my toenails continued to be a battle. I hated the way the clippers put pressure on the nail, forcing it to bend. I hated the sound they made, almost a squelch before the snap when the nail was actually cut off. I hated the slightly jagged edges that came when it was all finished, because the clippers didn’t fit exactly on my nail. Contrary to my parents’ assurances, the process hurt me quite a lot. It hurt my sensory system when I felt the pressure changes. It hurt my ears when I heard the sounds associated with it. It hurt my skin when I cut it on the newly trimmed nails. Everything about it was miserable.
My parents tried everything, from doing it while I was sleeping (I always woke up, terrified and melting down), to having me soak my hands in warm water for 20+ minutes before they trimmed them, to playing music, to outright bribes. Nothing helped. Until one day, I saw my father cutting his nails with a pair of nail scissors. I didn’t hear any of the awful sounds, and so I asked him if he could try to use it on my nails. He agreed, and I’ve never looked back. Yes, nail scissors require a little more concentration so that I don’t cut the nail bed, but beyond that, they solved every one of my issues. There’s no longer the weird awful flat pressure that comes with traditional clippers. Additionally, I can cut each nail all in one go, following the contour of the nail. There’s no awful sounds produced either. And when the nail has been trimmed, it has a nice smooth finish to it – no more of those jagged corners that get stuck on things.
Personal hygiene and grooming is something many on the autism spectrum struggle with due to various sensory sensitivities and executive functioning issues. The discovery of nail scissors was HUGE in my world, transforming the task of trimming my nails from a biweekly (every 2 weeks) meltdown that usually ended in extreme pain and terror, to a rather painless, relatively quick experience. As I got older, I mastered using the nail scissors on my own, first doing my own left hand, and having my father do my right. I quickly mastered using both hands equally well, and have been trimming my own nails, when I want to trim them (which is about once a week, to keep them nice and short) since about age 11. For a simple task that had caused me to go into full melt down mode only 1 year before, I’d say this was a pretty big step.
The moral of this story? Sometimes you have to think outside the box to find a solution to sensory issues. In this case, there was simply a non-standard tool that can also be used, that I found acceptable. In other cases, it’s not so simple. But if you find yourself completely lost on how to get your child to deal with trimming their nails, something that should (hypothetically, at least) be a relatively painless process, perhaps give nail scissors a try. They worked really well for me.