Saturday, March 10, 2012

Putting the Pause on Picking

Putting the Pause (paws!) on Picking

Owies, bug bites, and scabs are wounds that can take a year or more to heal when little fingers are constantly digging at them.  It's the arms that get picked on at our house, but recently we've proudly been able to shed those long sleeves.  Arms that once looked like raw meat are now smooth and fresh again.  Just in time for Spring, here's some tips you can take, tweak, or toss!

1.) Part of our problem was me finding bloody arms, after the deed had been done. It also seemed my daughter was in as much shock as I was, so it was clearly a subconscious activity. Our kids want to stop picking too, but overreacting will add to their sense of failure and shame which does nothing to solve the problem, so decide to stop this unproductive cycle today!

2.) Together, with your child, determine why it is she is picking in the first place.  Ashi and I deduced that she does it when she is anxious or absorbed doing something else like reading a book, or researching on the internet. We also were able to identify some cues that would help us know we've got to take action before the picking happens.

3.) Cues at our house included: walking around while talking incessantly, talking in other voices, being completely consumed in a book or researching on the internet, feeling itchy, or times when it was very quiet all of a sudden.

4.) We made a chart of cues on the white board to help us be alert. We both must pay eagle-eye attention to these cues. It is a team effort. When Ashi is feeling those things on the list, that's our cue to start our action plan. 

5.) I will lather Ashi's arms down with Aquaphor, a Eucerin product that can be found at any store, make sure she has on long sleeves, double-check that fingernails are trimmed, and then she will put on some thin, little white gloves I purchased for her. We also keep a basket of 'fidgets' nearby to keep her 'would-be-picking' fingers busy.

6.) There was also a long range goal to achieve. Ashi loves to go to Planet Snoopy each summer and I just matter-of-factly explained that if her arms were not healed, we could not go. This provided tons of motivation! 

7.) Instead of reacting to picking,  I randomly provided rewards for not picking.  For example, if she's had a very successful week at not picking, I might add an extra dollar to her allowance. If I find a quarter in the laundry one day and she's been working hard at identifying those cues, I'll present it to her.  If we're at the store, I might throw in a treat and explain that she is doing a fine job getting those arms healed.  I let the rewards be random because I don't want her to not pick to earn a reward, I want her to learn a lifelong skill.  Ultimately the rewards will taper off and not be offered.

8.) We also researched pictures of scabies and staph infections from too much picking. It was very comforting for Ashi to learn that she is not the only child struggling to stop picking. It was eye-opening for her to see that it is truly dangerous to pick from a health standpoint.  It mattered enough that Ashi wanted to be proactive in finding a solution.

Getting ahead of the problem using communication, figuring out the cues, making a chart, having an action plan, keeping it at the forefront of our minds by making a conscious, team effort each day, and rewarding for not picking helped us stop picking.  Looks like we'll be going to Planet Snoopy again this summer.  YAY!

Annie Eskeldson writes for parents of young austists.  She has 3 published children's books about autism that nurture parents and teach others at  She will be speaking at a homeschooling convention in Kansas City in April.


  1. So happy that Ashi is able to wear short sleeves again!! Love to hear about what works for you.

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