Long hair can be a problem. Food could get in it, your child could bite it or try to chew on it, or it could be constantly dirty and difficult to keep clean.
Eventually, your child on the spectrum will need a haircut! This can be a major challenge for parents. All of the different sounds and sensations that come along with getting your haircut can be a complete sensory overload. Here are tips to help make this a smooth process!
1. Don’t surprise your child. Allow them to plan ahead and prepare for the haircut beforehand. Include a social story to explain what happens when you do go to get the haircut so there are no big unexpected events. Reminders about the haircut on the days leading up to it can help them be more at ease.
2. Often times, a child on the spectrum will be extremely sensitive to certain noises and sensations, especially around the ears. Introduce them to hair clippers and the sounds they make. Desensitize your child to the vibrations and sounds of the clippers. When you arrive at the Salon, the tools being used will already be familiar. Use ear plugs to block out the noise.
3. Bring a preferred item to take the child’s mind off getting a haircut. This could be anything that is reinforcing to them and they play with a lot at home. Some examples are a tablet, animal toys, iPod with favorite songs, fidgets, coloring books, or a small toy train that they love. Pack a bag of possible items they would use as a coping skill or to calm down when feeling scared.
4. Pack your child’s favorite snack (I suggest more than one). A haircut can be a frightening experience for them and at times the sensory overload may become too much. This is when a break involving a snack will come in handy. Explain that “we can take a break now and come back and do more after we have a snack”. Just as adults, children with autism need time to regulate themselves when they become agitated, this break time will provide an opportunity to relax.
5. Use positive reinforcement and reward them for getting a haircut. Remember that this is an overwhelming experience and remind them that they have a treat waiting either at home or in the car when the haircut is done. This could be a new toy, a frappe at McDonald’s, or a trip to play mini golf in the summer. Anything the child will look forward to and ease some of the stress.
6. Find a hairdresser who does home visits. If this is not possible, choose the time and day that you go to the salon wisely. Find out what the quietest times of business are. Less people equals less noise and a calmer environment.
7. Model it! Use a modeling video to show another child getting their haircut. This will give the child an idea of what to expect. Below is a video that can be used for modeling.