Let’s talk about haircuts. For many adults and children with autism, getting a haircut can be a traumatic experience.
The buzz of the clippers fading in and out in the background, unfamiliar hands touching their head, the feel of freshly cut hair scratching the back of the neck—these are just a few of the sensations that can be overwhelming for an individual with autism. Even sitting for the entire process of a haircut can be a challenge. A lot of times for someone with an autism diagnosis, haircuts can be a complete sensory overload.
When approaching a haircut, it is helpful to think about 3 main times. The before, during, and after the haircut. (information from www.myautism.org and www.autismspeaks.org )
Before the haircut:
- Try taking a pre-trip to the salon to become more familiar with the surroundings.
- Book an appointment when you know the salon will be less busy.
- Use a social story or video to help your child understand the process of the haircut.
- Practice the steps of the haircut together.
- Meet the person who will be giving the haircut ahead of time if possible.
- Have a reward picked out for the day of the cut.
- Mark it on the calendar with a special symbol to visually prepare your child for the day.
During the haircut:
- Try having you and your child be as much a part of the process as the hairdresser will allow. Such helping to shampoo and wash their hair.
- Try bringing products from home that your child is familiar with.
- Provide distractions. Bring toys along or electronic devices. Another distraction is having a conversation about a favorite thing or place they enjoy.
- If it looks like the haircut is becoming overwhelming or stressful, take a break!
- If your child does well with certain sensory tools, such as a weighted blanket, bring it/them along too.
- Remind your child about the reinforcement you chose together.
- Sometimes a timer, letting your child know when the haircut will be complete, can help too.
After the haircut:
- Reward your kiddo! Take them out for a special treat and give them that reinforcer you have been keeping for them.
- Have a conversation with them about the experience if you can. What did they like? What did they not like? And why? (If you are unable to talk about it, take note of what appeared to cause stress and what seemed ok.)
Autism Speaks partnered with Snip-Its and Melmark New England to create a haircutting training guide to help make the process of a haircut more positive for both your child with an autism diagnosis and the stylist. Take a look at their video and training guide at Autism Speaks.
Listen to your child. Haircuts can be challenging and scary for children with an autism diagnosis. The most important thing is that they feel as comfortable as possible and safe. If you can, find a salon experienced and trained in cutting the hair of a child with special needs.
Here at ABA Autism Therapy, we provide families with behavior intervention strategies to help them navigate the special and unique experiences of a child on the autism spectrum. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you!