School Glue

Sometimes very simple, everyday substances can solve complex, challenging issues related to autism. Today we are talking about one such “magical” substance: white school glue, sometimes known as Elmer’s glue.

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For logistical reasons and teacher peace of mind, glue sticks are beginning to replace white school glue on school supply lists. But I encourage parents, teachers, and others interested in the well-being of individuals with autism to keep a bottle of Elmer’s glue in their supply cabinet. You can use this non-toxic, inexpensive substance to fill leisure time, decrease boredom, encourage creativity, and distract attention. Some ideas:

+ SKIN PICKING. Some of our friends with autism obsessively pick at their skin, sometimes causing bleeding, sores, and wounds that do not heal readily. There are several options for breaking this cycle of picking at skin, one of which is the “school glue cure.” Just put a very thin layer of Elmer’s glue on the palm of a compulsive picker’s hand, then allow them to peel the dried glue layer. In most cases, the compulsive picker switches their focus to the glue, allowing their sores and scratches to heal.

+ NOSE PICKING. The same strategy can distract a compulsive nose picker. It is much more socially acceptable – and much healthier – to pick at palms than to pick at noses.

+ CREATIVITY. You can encourage budding young artists and help them learn patience by simply giving them a sheet of foil and a small bottle of Elmer’s glue. Let them put a continuous blob of glue about 2 or 3 inches in diameter on the foil. They can make a shape or just a general glob. The next step is to wait until the glue dries completely, until it is completely clear with no trace of white remaining. Depending on environmental factors, the drying process can take several hours or even all day. Once the glue glob is completely dry, encourage your friend to gently peel the foil off the back of the glue shape. Most individuals enjoy holding the interesting, translucent shape up to the light, bending it, and looking through it. Glue shapes can be hung by a string in front of a window or arranged on a colorful paper for a textured picture. If a person tends to rip objects or put items in their mouth, you can put their glue sculpture in a small ziplock bag so they can enjoy looking at and bending their creation without destroying it.

TIP FOR THE DAY: Sometimes the most effective solutions for various issues related to autism are simple and inexpensive. We welcome any ideas you have for using every-day objects to solve a problem or enrich the life of your friend with autism.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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