Dad Starts Autism-Friendly Dinner Club for Families

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How Stimming Has Improved My Social Life

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If you told me two years ago — before my autism spectrum disorder diagnosis — that all I needed to do was to chew in order to have a better social life, I probably would have thought you were telling me to chew tobacco. Then I would have thought that was silly. But in the last few months or so, I have been chewing (also known as stimming) as much as I please, and without shame.

Stimming means “self-stimulatory behavior,” and I believe almost everyone does it in some way. Even a neurotypical person might somehow fidget or stim. It’s very common and natural. However, it is different for autistic people. The most recognizable autistic stims may be hand flapping or spinning, but there are many more. I even consider listening to the same song 20 times (or more) in a row to be a common stim for me. It calms me; it makes me feel like myself.

I have come to realize that chewing on my chewable necklace from Stimtastic — a store that makes stim toys just for this purpose — calms me greatly during times of sensory overload. When am I overloaded? Often! This happens a lot in supermarkets and other crowded places. The most dangerous place it occurs is in the car. I have extra trouble at stop lights, when cars are buzzing by, horns are beeping, etc. I can’t just run away from the overload while I’m in a giant piece of machinery!

But now I chew on my necklace and have been able to drive farther from my safe bubble than I have in a long time! I’ve been as far as 80 miles away to visit family. In fact, I can’t get enough of this new ability I have, thanks to being able to stim. Sure, I get looks. I can see out of the corner of my eye. People may think it’s odd to see a grown woman chewing hard on her jewelry, but I don’t care. Stimming has improved my quality of life — my social life, in particular. Driving to see family is something I won’t ever take for granted. I can’t wait for the holidays this year, which is not something I could have said a few years ago.

Do you stim? Don’t be ashamed, even if it’s not seen as “normal” by some people. The more of us who are willing to shamelessly stim, the less stigma will be attached to it!

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10 Nail-Trimming Tips for Parents of Children With Sensory Sensitivities

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If your child is on the autism spectrum or has sensory processing issues or sensitivities, nail trimming can be a stressful situation for the both of you. You are not alone, and there are some tips that may help make life a little easier and lessen the stress. These are my tips for nail trimming as an occupational therapist who works with the pediatric population.

Please keep in mind every child is unique, and what may work for one child may not work for another. Also, a certain method that works for a child one day may not work for that same child the next day.

1. Nail clippers can look scary. Try buying a pair of “kid-friendly” nail clippers that are more visually appealing. They sell cute animal clippers (ex: in the shape of a dino or dolphin).

2. Re-evaluate your need to use nail clippers. If your child absolutely cannot tolerate nail cutting, experiment a little. Maybe using baby nail scissors that have a rounded tip will be less irritating for your child. Or maybe even try using a nail file. It can take longer, but if your child is tolerant of the file versus the clippers, it might be a lot less stressful for the both of you.

3. Before nail cutting, ask if your child wants to squeeze putty, play-dough, or a stress-ball. The heavy work/deep pressure input might help to reduce your child’s tactile sensitivity.

4. Having your child hold a vibrating toy in his/her hands prior to or during nail clipping might help. The vibration is meant to help “desensitize” the area prior to nail clipping in the hope that it isn’t as bothersome. Another option is to “brush” each nail with a toothbrush prior to clipping each nail. Using a vibrating toothbrush combines both of these methods.

5. Consider cutting nails after bath-time when the nails are the softest (this can make them easier to cut).

6. Another option is pressing down gently on the center of each nail prior to clipping. This might help temporarily reduce the sensitivity.

7. It might be easier for your child if you cut his or her nails while he or she is watching a favorite TV show or movie.

8. Depending on the age of your child and their fine motor/grasping abilities, you may want to consider asking your child to cut their own fingernails. Sometimes being in control of the situation eases the sensory discomfort. Your child may become upset when someone else is cutting their nails because they have absolutely no control over it, but be completely OK with doing it themselves.

9. Try not to cut the nail too short. Your child’s nail cutting issue may be more related to the sensation of the fingers after nail cutting (the change in nail length can be a bothersome, “annoying,” or even painful sensation).

10. Please keep in mind that a child may not always have issues with nail cutting due to tactile sensitivities. It could be that he/she does not like the sound the clipper makes when it cuts the nail (the clicking noise). You may want to try letting your child listen to their favorite song on headphones during nail cutting or (as stated above) use baby scissors, which produce no noise.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions that have worked for your child that are not on the above list, please leave them in the comments section below to help other parents going through the same challenges.

Christina is an OTR/L and owner of Sensory TheraPLAY Box, LLC, the monthly sensory toy box for children with autism and/or sensory needs.

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Why Written Instructions Are Best for Me as Someone on the Autism Spectrum

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