Friday, April 27, 2012

Analogy of a Hang Nail

I recently found a terrific blog at It started in February, and already has quite a number of encouraging and thought-provoking posts. Be sure to read 50 Things You Should Not Say to Autism Parents and 50 Things You Should Say to Autism Parents. I saw the author was looking for guest posts, so I sent one, and asked her to guest post here.

Christine Passey is the mother of two beautiful girls, one with autism. She is also a wife, social worker, political advocate, blogger at, and a vice president of the Utah Autism Coalition.

Analogy of a Hang Nail

Sunday morning didn’t start great. Skylynn was awake at 7 am as usual, and as usual I stayed up too late the night before. But being the responsible mom I am, I woke up when I heard Skylynn singing in her room, got her breakfast, turned on Color Crew, and made my morning latte.

From the go, Skylynn was not having a great morning. She seemed in sensory overload and no amount of squishing, squeezing, and spinning seemed to help. But things made a turn for the worst when Skylynn came screaming over to me, sat in my lap, shoved her foot in one of my hands, and took my other hand and placed it on her big toe.

Oh no! The dreaded hang nail. Hang nails are an all-hands-on-deck kind of thing around my house. Skylynn’s world erupts into a giant meltdown when a hang nail is found. Sunday morning was no different. As usual, she wouldn’t actually let me help her with her hang nail. She wanted me to fix the problem but the minute I tried, she pulled her toe away and kicked and screamed. The scene played out with Skylynn kicking, screaming, throwing toys, and melting down on the floor – then jumping right back on my lap, shoving her foot in one hand, and placing my other hand on her toe. Now this particular hang nail was especially obnoxious because it was so tiny as to almost not really be there at all. So there was no way in the few seconds Skylynn let me near her toe I could really do anything about it. It was a mess.

Finally, after this chaos played out for about 20 minutes, I had a brilliant idea. I ran to the bathroom, grabbed the lotion and lathered her foot up – paying special attention to making sure the hang nail was especially slippery. Whew! It worked! Skylynn grabbed her toe, couldn’t find the hang nail, and went back to watching Color Crew, happier then she was before the hang nail fiasco began. It seemed her giant meltdown provided her with the sensory input she needed to find even ground again.

As I thought about this situation I realized the story of the hangnail is the perfect analogy of much of Skylynn’s life. Skylynn struggles with sensory integration, communication troubles, odd rituals, transitions, and a myriad of other sometimes seemingly insurmountable troubles. Like the hang nail she desperately wants my help as she is struggling to work through these problems. Unfortunately, also like the hang nail, all too often neither her nor I have any idea how I can actually help her.

I guess in some ways that is what autism is to a parent. Skylynn wants my help, she needs my help, but frequently neither of us actually know how I can help her. The communication barrier felt by
both verbal and non-verbal autistics can make even small problems, like hang nails, seem insurmountable mountains. Only the determined are able to climb these mountains. I am constantly on my toes waiting on the next chance creativity and experience will collide so I can help my daughter in some way. I rejoice every time I am able to figure out some way to help Skylynn’s troubles “go away,” even if only momentarily. Unfortunately, all too often I am here on the side lines
wishing there were more I could do.

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Blogger Lizbeth said...

Seriously, I totally have to go to Autism Island now.

I so know what you mean and only wish I too could peek inside my son's world more often than I can or do.

April 27, 2012 at 2:34 PM  

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