-- Guest blogger post: Eileen “Mama Fry” Shaklee, Autism with a side of fries --
Haircuts. For many of us, a trip to the salon for a haircut is a relaxing self-care experience. When it’s your child with autism going for one, well, let’s just say it’s not always a soothing spa escape.
In fact, haircuts for autistic kids can be difficult at times due to their sensory processing and or anxiety issues. It’s not impossible though. Here are some tips that I have learned along the way that has made getting my son a haircut a much more positive experience.
Finding a hairstylist
Ask the parents/caregivers of your kid’s classmates where they go. We found an amazing hair stylist that way when Kiddo was younger. His teacher had heard all the other parents raving about this woman’s ability to work with "moving targets." You can’t go wrong with tried and true!
Also, call around and ask who is best with kids. I have heard this from several stylists. Some of them just can’t do kids' cuts. Even the neurotypical ones.
While it may sound easier just to take them where you go for a cut, it might not be the best place for them. Seriously, my old hair stylist told me once she never even cut HER OWN KID’S hair. It’s a special skill, so don’t take it too personally if a stylist says that they can’t.
Ask the stylist if they have experience with cutting the hair of a child with autism. Talk to them on the phone before you go and ask what they have seen work with their set up, good times to go, etc…
Some salons may make your loved one the last or first appointment of the day to make it a quiet environment.
Also, you know your kid, you know when they have had it. My own son has a "window.” Right around 4:45 is when I see him start to wind down. So I opt for appointments first thing in the morning. This also happens to be right after he takes his medication and that helps a lot.
Practice and play
Pretend role play is a great way to go over all the steps that will happen when getting a haircut. Let your child style your hair with combs and brushes. Make it a game.
Also, there is a fantastic app by the Toca Boca company called “Hair Salon” where you can style, cut, shampoo, blow dry and dye the hair all the crazy colors of the rainbow that my son just loved. It’s a great way to go over all the tools of the salon. My son used to be very afraid of the sound of hair clippers but using the ones in the app helped desensitize him to the noise.
Grab a model
Got an older sibling that needs a cut? Take them with you and have your child watch their brother or sister get a haircut. No other kids? Why not yourself? Or your spouse? Let them see how it’s no big deal and everyone does it.
Kiddo had a teacher organize a barber to come in and give the school principal a haircut in front of the class. It was a game changer for us. My son was able to see someone he knew getting it done and suddenly it was no big deal anymore.
Ditch the traditional steps
Some kids hate the hair cutting capes. In the words of Edna from “The Incredibles” movie, NO CAPES! Yes, hairs might get on their shirt but big deal. They can be brushed off and you’re just going to toss it in the laundry later anyway.
Others might find getting their hair washed while reclining backwards scary. So skip it. You can do that later at bath time and a stylist can just mist the hair with water to cut it all the same. Blow dryers are too loud anyway and that will save you the step of having to worry about that as well.
They might prefer to stand instead of sitting or just might need a pacing break. Bring a timer and let them do what they need.
Make compromises with style
While you may have a vision for the haircut, getting it done safely and quickly matters more here. For many years we opted for a “high and tight” buzz cut for my son as the sight of scissors scared him. Clippers were just more doable for getting it done till he learned to tolerate a scissor cut.
Likewise, now that he is older and a teenager, he has his own opinions on how he wants it to look. I listen to him. As long as it’s within reason, we work together on what he wants.
No matter how each appointment goes. I know I was guilty of letting Kiddo's hair grow far too long because the very idea of going was enough to send a shudder down my spine but I wasn’t doing him any favors.
The very wise hair stylist I mentioned before was the one that gently but firmly told me “Let’s get him on a schedule.” She was right. He had to get used to it and the only way that was going to happen was to keep constantly going.
When it becomes part of their established routine, they will accept what has to be done.
Eileen “Mama Fry” Shaklee. Autism is a trip I didn’t plan on, but I sure do love my tour guide. It’s better to laugh than to cry, mainly because I got distracted by the free samples at Costco and forgot to buy tissues. So, come join this one mom’s adventure with a side of sarcasm (and fries) on my blog, Autism with a side of fries or on Facebook and Twitter. Some additional, upcoming blog posts by "Mama Fry" will also be featured here on Goally's Parent Corner.