Haircuts for Autistic Persons: Tips for Parents And Hairdressers
For children on the autism spectrum, getting a haircut isn’t a walk in the park. As a matter of fact, it can be filled with anxiety and apprehension about the sights, sounds and touch that comes with the experience, from the snip-snip of the scissors to the sit-down position for the half-hour it takes for the hairdresser to finish.
Fortunately, both parents and hairdressers can adopt several measures to make the haircutting experience more tolerable, if not more enjoyable, for autistic children. Of course, it’s also important to choose a kid-friendly salon like Pigtails and Crewcuts whose hairdressers have the right training to deal with children as clients.
Here, you will read about the reasons for the issues that parents and hairdressers are likely to encounter when getting children with autism on the barber’s chair. You will also get useful tips for dealing with these issues to the benefit of all parties involved.
Know the Reasons for the Issues First
Children with autism have sensory issues that hairdressers should have a basic understanding of, at the very least. For them, any of their senses can be under-sensitive or over-sensitive, or both in some cases, at different times. Such level of sensitivity can affect the child’s behavior, such as the distress experienced at the sound of the scissors snipping away at the hair.
If you’re a parent of an autistic child, you should then consult with the hairdresser about the sensory issues that can affect your child’s behavior while inside the salon. By doing so, you’re giving the hairdresser basic insight into your child’s condition and, thus, the basic tools to effectively prevent issues during the haircut.
Children with autism may also experience difficulties with the sense of touch, and these difficulties can appear weird to others. Even the simplest brush of skin against skin can be highly distressing to an autistic child, for example. Just imagine the distress that some autistic children may feel when a stranger washes and brushes their hair, use scissors near their ears, and/or drape a towel on their shoulders.
The sensitivity to noise can also be a source of concern for parents and hairdressers. The background noise in a salon combined with the sounds of the blow dryers, clippers, and television can overwhelm their senses and thus, lead to a tantrum. This is also true for sensitivity to bright lights including their reflections on the mirrors and to strong smells from the salon products.
Fear of the unknown can also come into play, such as when it’s the autistic child’s first time to get a haircut or first time to visit a particular salon. In some cases, the use of certain words can trigger the child’s anxiety so it may be necessary to use other terms, such as “shortening the hair” instead of “haircut”.
The bottom line: It’s important for both parents and hairdressers to set parameters about the autistic child’s sensory issues and work around them.
Know the Possible Solutions
There are several possible solutions that parents and hairdressers can prepare autistic children for a haircut, perhaps even make them look forward to it.
- Tell your child about the hairdresser appointment two days prior. Your child will then be mentally prepared for it, especially as it means disrupting his daily routine. You can also place a haircut symbol, such as scissors, on a calendar for the same purpose.
- Use positive words in describing the experience and be patient when answering questions about it.
- Arrange for your child to watch another person, preferably a child of his own age or a sibling, getting a haircut. You can either take him to the salon or videotape the other child getting a haircut. Your child will then be able to see that it isn’t painful, if that’s a concern for him.
- Use play acting or role playing in demonstrating the haircutting process. Be sure to make it as realistic as possible, such as using a doll and kid-safe scissors to ease your child’s anxiety about it. Cutting up paper with scissors is also a great way to ease your child’s anxiety about scissors.
- Lessen the risk of sensitivity to the sights, sounds and smells that your child reacts to. Examples include letting him wear a face mask to reduce the effect of the strong smells; asking the hairdresser to use an unscented shampoo or bringing your child’s shampoo that he uses at home for washing his hair prior to cutting; and letting your child become more involved in the process.
- For example, letting your child brush his own hair prior to cutting or letting him spray the water on his head can make a difference. You can also let your child listen to his favorite music through earphones so that he calms down.
- Ask the hairdresser to use tools that can lessen the distress level of your child. Instead of clippers, which can cause vibrations, scissors can be used, for example.
With each visit, your child will likely be more appreciative of his haircutting session. You can give a reward, if necessary, so that he enjoy the salon visits more.