Haircuts can sometimes be difficult for children with autism and many parents of children with an ASD are all too familiar with the challenges of taking their child to get a haircut. These challenges can range from sensory issues or anxiety about what will happen during the haircut. I think the latter applies to my son. He seems very afraid of the scissors, he doesn’t like to wear the smock which prevents hair from getting all over his clothes, and he HATES the clippers.
For some children, personal stories work well. Knowing what to expect is very helpful and can ease any anxiety associated with haircuts. Personal stories, however, do not work for my son. Max recently had a dentist appointment, so, to prepare him, I created a personal story. A few days leading up to the appointment I read it to him, showed him photos and explained that it wouldn’t hurt. To be honest, I’m not sure he understood everything completely, but I did my best. The long and short of it is, our appointment was an epic fail. It took four people to hold him down. He was screaming bloody murder and the dentist barely had a chance to examine him. Sigh.
Back to the haircut.
Given our history, I knew Max wouldn’t cooperate at the salon, his last hair appointment was as bad as that dentist appointment I described.
This time I came prepared. I packed my arsenal, I didn’t say a word to him about the haircut and we headed out the door. I had no idea what to expect upon arrival.
I kept it simple. I brought my trusty Time Timer and a cookie. I thought about bringing the iPad but opted not to in the end.
Here we go! As you can see, Max isn’t wearing a smock. This definitely helped. His hairstylist was VERY understanding and patient. He is not holding his head steady, he’s very uncomfortable but hanging in.
Having the time timer in full view helped. A LOT.
There’s that cookie I mentioned. He’s very uncomfortable and attempted to whack the hairstylist’s scissors away several times. But having a yummy treat and the Time Timer kept his behaviour in check.
The hairstylist graciously gave Max her brush. He enjoyed the sensation of it on his skin which really helped. Bonus!
Oh, how he despised every minute of this experience. But the important thing is that he tolerated a very difficult moment AND he did not scream, cry or run away. We’re in the final stretch!
All done! Just a tidying up a few strays with the clippers. Yes, he let her use the clippers! SUCCESS!
In the end, I didn’t take a photo of Max’s haircut as he was anxious to leave the salon. I didn’t mind, I was very pleased with the outcome.
If your child has difficulty with haircuts, here are a few tips:
1. Call ahead and notify the salon that your child has difficulty with haircuts. This is important information the salon should have prior to your visit as it will allow them to properly prepare.
2. Create a personal story or a visual schedule. Many children like predictability as it can be difficult to cope once their daily routines are thrown off.
3. Check your local Autism Chapter to find out if they offer listings of local salons in your area that may cater to individuals with autism
4. Be prepared. Bring items you know will keep your child calm and relaxed during stressful periods.
5. Schedule an appointment during a time when the salon is not as crowded so there are less distractions for the child with autism.
If you have a child who has difficulty with haircuts, try some of these strategies. It can make a world of difference for you and your child.