For so long growing up, I could never get my hair cut in a barbershop. Crowded places like that made me feel uneasy, the sound of scissors made me cringe and when hair fell after being cut, I’d shiver like thousands of little pins were stabbing me in the back of my neck. That’s why for several years I had hair that went to my shoulders. My parents were afraid even the attempt of a haircut would be too much for me because of my sensory overload.
Once I got to middle school, though, my parents and I needed a change. We started meeting with our friend in her house to have my hair cut and we never looked back. Being in quiet surroundings with someone I felt comfortable with did wonders. Years later I started going to a salon after building the muscle memory of dozens of successful haircuts from home.
As an advocate and public speaker on the topic of autism, I wanted to share several things I believe people with autism want you to know about cutting their hair.
1. When you give us a “game plan,” we will likely feel more comfortable.
When you are in the room with us, give us an idea of what we should expect. Will we need our hair shampooed beforehand? Will you be using more than just scissors, like a razor or trimmers? The more directions you give us, the more comfortable we might be. For younger kids, visual schedules are amazing at helping us get on track.
2. Cutting our hair may be completely different than the next person you meet. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
For my parents, it helped having someone cut my hair in house. For others it may be sitting on the ground with them while they play a game (see the story of a barber who went the extra mile for a boy with autism). The old saying of, “If you’ve met one individual with autism, you’ve met one individual with autism” rings true for cutting our hair, too. Playing up to our interests can go a long way.
3. Positive reinforcement and reward systems can go a long way.
Every time I got my hair cut, my family promised me something fun, like going to the movies or getting a treat. Getting our hair cut can be an overwhelming experience. Give them something to look forward to and it may help with some of the stress/overload they may be feeling.
4. Sometimes it might not be necessary to cut our hair right away!
Many kids on and off the spectrum hate to have their hair cut. Some children’s hair grows faster than others. Is their hair that messy? If a child can keep their hair longer for a little while longer, you may be able to ease them into the experience when they are older.
5. Make it fun so you can form a relationship and build that trust.
Regardless if you are a barber or cutting your own child’s hair, take some time to reflect on what your child enjoys the most. Maybe it’s a specific activity they enjoy or maybe it’s talking about a certain topic? For those who are nonverbal, maybe there’s a game they could play on an iPad if they have one.
Haircuts can be challenging for our loved ones on the spectrum, but they can be possible for some with the right preparation. Hang in there, and the next time they need a trim, make sure they know you are there for them the entire way. That may be one of the most important tips of all — to help your child have the best haircut experience ever.
Follow this journey on Kerrymagro.com.
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