If you’ve ever tried to help an autistic child groom their nails you probably already know that it can be challenging, for you and the child! Some of the ways autism presents can make cutting nails more difficult than for other children, which also means it’s more difficult for the person trying to help them.
Not understanding why autistic children struggle with having their nails cut only makes the problem worse.
So, we’re going to talk about why it’s hard for autistic children to have their nails cut, and offer some solutions that might make it easier for you and the child.
Let’s get started.
Why Is Cutting An Autistic Child’s Nails So Difficult
It’s important to remember when you’re dealing with an autistic child, and that even most neuro-typical children don’t like having their nails trimmed. That’s important because it means that an autistic child’s discomfort isn’t that unusual, they just may have a more severe reaction to having their nails trimmed.
Autistic children are also likely to think that nail trimming is unnecessary, so they don’t understand why they need to go through a difficult and uncomfortable process. Sometimes you can explain why nail trimming matters, but autistic children might not care, and may not be able to listen at the moment.
Many autistic children also dislike being touched, especially for a prolonged period, due to sensory processing disorder. That means that holding their hand to cut their nails might be uncomfortable for an autistic child, and they might not want to let you hold their hand long enough to get the job done.
The last common reason autistic children don’t like having their nails trimmed is they don’t like the sound. Especially since the sound of nail trimming can be unpredictable, it may be overwhelming and uncomfortable for autistic children.
Those are only some of the most common reasons. Every child is different, so every autistic child is likely to have different reasons behind their behavior when their nails are trimmed.
Tips For Cutting Your Autistic Child’s Nails
Each of these tips can help make it easier to cut an autistic child’s nails, but it’s also important to combine different tips and to pay attention to how each child reacts. What works for one autistic child won’t necessarily work for another, and what worked once might not work a second time.
Always try to adjust your nail trimming process to meet the needs of the child, whatever those might be at the time.
First, Try Starting Slowly:
You might not trim every nail every time, but if you can trim even one or two you might be able to start building the child’s tolerance to having their nails trimmed.
Over time you’ll be able to increase how many nails you trim, or how closely you trim each nail. But, you may reach plateaus where there isn’t progress. Don’t let that discourage you.
Don’t Go Wild When They Do Cooperate With Nail Trimming:
Pushing too hard on a good day, especially if it’s uncomfortable or ultimately makes the autistic child unhappy, will likely make it harder the next time.
Make Sure You’re Both Comfortable:
You don’t have as much tolerance when you’re uncomfortable, and neither do autistic children. Making sure you’re both as comfortable as you can be will help make the process less stressful for you both.
Talk Them Through The Process:
Some autistic children benefit from being talked through what you’re doing as you’re doing it. Telling them you’re going to clip one nail, and before each clip, and then when you move on to the next finger will help them process what’s going on and stay calmer.
Explain Why This Needs To Be Done:
Autistic children usually don’t understand why their nails need to be trimmed, and it might take them longer to understand than other children. Explaining why you’re trimming their nails, with examples, each time will help them understand and stay calmer.
Explaining also sets the expectation that they get to know why something is happening and have some say in it.
Try A Hand Massage Before Nail Trimming:
Giving an autistic child a small hand massage before you get started can make the whole process a lot easier. That’s because it helps them associate their hand being held with a pleasant sensation, instead of just an uncomfortable one.
This can also be a good option to help after nail trimming, especially if the massage is comforting or feels good to the child.
However, a hand massage may not be useful for autistic children that are touch averse. If possible, you can always ask if they want a hand massage before you get started.
Try Using The Right Equipment:
Using a typical nail clipper might not be a good option for autistic children. They need to move too much, and it can be uncomfortable.
Switching to a 360-degree nail clipper is one option since the child can hold still while you adjust the clipper to the right angles.
If that doesn’t work, an electric trimmer might be a better option. It will feel and sound a little different, which might be more tolerable for some autistic children.
Try Filing First:
For some autistic children, filing, which is more consistent than clipping, might be a good starting place. You still need to start slow if you choose this option and work your way up to filing more than one nail, and then a whole hand.
But, once your child accepts filing you may be able to try nail clipping again, especially if you explain that it’s faster.
Consider Using Toys and Videos as Distractions:
In some cases, your best option might be helping your autistic child tolerate nail clipping by giving them something else to help them distract.
Stimming toys are a common option for this kind of distraction, but almost any toy or video your child finds engaging can work. You can even try playing their favorite song or letting them hug a favorite blanket.
Remember, the easier you can make nail trimming for your autistic child, the easier it will be for you, and the better they’re likely to behave. Fighting an autistic child to trim their nails is more likely to make it harder over time, especially if the child doesn’t understand what you’re doing or why.
Work with their autism, not against it, and you’ll have better results.