Some individuals with autism obsessively pick at or scratch their skin, causing sores and wounds that do not heal readily. An ongoing cycle of scratching, breaking skin, picking at sores, and scratching can result in skin damage. How can we break the cycle of picking at skin? How can we protect sores and wounds to allow them complete healing?
There are several options for decreasing the hurtful habit of picking on skin, scratching rashes, or irritating wounds. Here are some ideas – preventive measures that have been implemented effectively with individuals with autism to help their rashes and sores heal.
1. Gentle reminders. Some individuals with autism will respond to a visual or verbal reminder such as “Hands in lap, please,” or “Be gentle,” or “Take good care of your skin.”
2. Reminders and rewards. Some of our friends with autism have enough self-control to respond to a system that combines visual and verbal reminders with rewards for keeping “hands in lap” for gradually longer periods of time.
3. Bandages. Sometimes bandaids can help protect sores, but they are, of course ineffective for rashes. And bandaids can actually draw attention to the area, making our friends with autism more likely to scratch or pick.
4. Distraction. Keeping hands occupied while holding textured items, squishy balls, or a small laminated photo can help. Several friends with autism who are compulsive “pickers” have responded well with the strategy of putting a thin layer of Elmer’s glue on the palm of their hand and allowing them to peel the dried glue from their palm. Peeling the dried glue is much more appropriate and much less hurtful than picking at sores and rashes.
5. Long-sleeved shirts. Comfortable, long-sleeved knit shirts – polos, turtlenecks, sweatshirts – can help protect sores and rashes on arms, elbows, neck, and torso. In the summer, use lightweight knit and mock turtle necks if heat is a problem.
6. Waist down. We can protect rashes and wounds from the waist down by tossing all loosely fitted knit shorts. Long pants and jeans, long shorts and capris can help keep hands away from tender areas of skin. One method for protecting sore spots from the waist down is to have individuals with autism wear blue jeans fitted at the waist with a substantial belt. Some persistent folks may need to put the belt buckle in the back to protect their skin rashes and sores.
We welcome your input about this issue. Feel free to share challenges and ideas based on your experiences or intuition. Just click on the comments button or send an e-mail to talk@FAQautism.com.
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to talk@FAQautism.com And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com