As anyone who is familiar with Autism or SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder), getting haircuts is TORTURE, both for the kids and for the parents. It’s a chore that has to be done, but it’s really hard for all involved. I’ve seen stylists chase kids all over the salon, cut hair while the child is laying on the floor and drive for hours for desperate parents whose sole desire is for a drama free haircut. But for these kids, the entire experience is a nerve wrenching experience that is, at best, tolerated and, at worst, full-on battle mode.
For some reason, my husband and I lucked into just the right situation, in just the right place, with just the right barber. After a few years to think about it, I think I understand why. So, I’m blogging about what I learned. If these tips help you in any way, I’d love for you to comment and tell me. So, here’s my suggestions to help with easier haircuts for these kids.
- Pick the right place.
All salons and barbershops are the same, right? Nope! In the early days I had varying degrees of success with salons and the stylists there. They range from bad to terrible, mostly. One stylist wanted me to instruct my 2 year old to “stay perfectly still” or she could not cut his hair. Needless to say, we didn’t get his haircut that day. The most successful haircuts we’ve had have been at a barbershop, not a salon. The old-fashioned barbershop. One guy with a pair of scissors and one barber chair. From a child’s point of view, it makes perfect sense. No murmur of voices from other customers. No blowdryers or electric razors. This is the ideal place. Most large cities and small towns have a barbershop somewhere.
2. Pick the right person.
We’ve had the most success with barbers and stylists who have been perfecting their craft for years and have extensive experience dealing with children. The stylist I mentioned earlier was a very young lady who probably didn’t have a lot of experience dealing with children. The barber we use regularly has owned his shop for years. His name is Jose. Jose knows D is unable to keep himself from wiggling. In fact, D wiggles with every snip of the scissors. Once, when Jose wasn’t there and we had another barber, it didn’t go as well. The right barber is critical.
3. Pick the right haircut.
We don’t have to cut our kids hair as often. Perhaps once every 4 months or so. D’s hair doesn’t grow as much. A’s hair is very curly. So, with both kids we get it cut very, very short for several reasons. First, and most importantly, neither boy cares much for haircuts, but for D they are especially hard. Getting it very short cuts down on the number of times they have to tolerate this experience. Still, D will ask “Are you done yet” half a dozen times before he’s finished. We can grow it out quite a bit before we have to cut it again. Another reason is that my husband usually takes off work to get their hair cut. He doesn’t want to have to do that very often. The reason why he takes off leads me right to the next tip.
4. Pick the right time and day.
It is incredibly inconvenient to have to take a day off work to get your kids’ haircut, but it may be absolutely necessary for these kids with sensory issues. What my husband and I discovered was that the less time D had to wait for a haircut, the more successful that haircut was. Long wait times contributed to rising anxiety about the entire experience and set us up for meltdowns and failure. Once we realized that, we began to plan to take him in the early afternoon, before the shop got busy with other customers. More customers also increases the amount of ambient noise, which contributes to sensory defensiveness. So, we go during the week and in the early afternoon, before most folks are getting off of work.
5. Pick the right parent.
For some of you single parents, this may not be an option, but choosing which parent to take the child is a definite consideration. In the early days, my husband took my son because at times he had to hold him still. He would hold our son on his lap and hold his head still. I haven’t been strong enough to do that for a long, long time. Also, some children prefer the clippers and some prefer scissors. You will have to try each to see what they tolerate better. One of my boys prefers scissors and one prefers the clippers. All of them, including my husband, need to come home and change their shirt. My husband sometimes even showers.
No matter what you try, it will be difficult in the beginning. All new things are difficult for kids with Autism. I believe it is important for us to try to understand and work within their sensory issues. I’d love for you to let me know if these tips helped you at all. Leave me a comment and share your favorite stories!
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/43424851@N08/8718509441″>Vintage barbershop pole sign</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>