TAKING YOUR AUTISTIC SON TO A HAIRCUT
If your son has been diagnosed with autism, chances are he hates going to the barber shop as much as he hates doing other stuff and activities that would trigger his sensory meltdown. Hair trimming is indeed a huge sensory hurdle for your autistic son who can easily feel uncomfortable due to many known factors. These include the sound of the scissors clipping and the hair being cut, the feeling of the sprayed liquid and brush, and the movement of the comb and electric clipper going up and down his head. Add to that the presence of the barber and other customers who might watch the whole process, your son will certainly feel distressed while having his hair cut to the point that he’d never want to undergo the same process again. Unlike girls, autistic boys have a higher tendency to dislike haircuts due to the fact that their grooming process would take longer time than girls, and involves more sensory stimuli. Many parents who are left confused as to how they would manage this kind of problem may end up compromising hair trimming for the sake of avoiding meltdowns. Fortunately, there are many ways to help your son overcome this stressful situation, without the need to worry about possible meltdown along the process. Here are some of the things that you can do.
Finding the right hair cutter/Barber
One of the most important factors that make a good haircut experience is obviously the barber. Whether you’re planning to hire a personal barber that would make scheduled visits to your house, or actually plan to go to a barber shop with your child, it is always a SOP to find an understanding and experienced barber. You should tell them about your child’s autism diagnosis and provide them with some tips on how to deal with certain situations, like speaking in a calm and friendly tone, as well as simplifying commands or statements so that your son can easily understand. A well-mannered haircutter who’s naturally friendly with children is an ideal one to hire. With this kind of barber, your son will most likely keep smiling at the end of the haircut process.
Have your son familiarize the place and process
For children, familiarity often equates to a sense of comfort and security. To make them less anxious about going to a barber shop, let them visit the place while you accompany another person who’s scheduled to have their hair cut. It could be your husband, their brother, or our nephew who’ll actually be sitting in front of the mirror and not your autistic son. You can let them watch the whole process, and make them feel that there’s less reason to worry about going to a barber shop. In the same way, you can also start introducing your son to the haircutter you chose for the job.
Make them look forward to it
Instead of developing a feeling of fear and anxiety about the haircut, you can help your child become more accepting and eager about the whole process. You can do this by mounting a schedule on the wall, with the day for haircut being made highly visible through a marker or picture. Helping your son develop a routine for this specific activity will greatly reduce stress, as they will begin to anticipate it in a more positive thought. Aside from making a schedule, you can also tell your son a good story that teaches the importance of haircut and set a timer in their watch on the actual date so they can feel a bit of excitement and eagerness to do the whole thing.
Reduce sensory stimuli
Even if your son has finally said yes to a haircut schedule, you cannot ignore the fact that his sensory issues will still persist. You cannot just sit back and afford to let your son suffer throughout the entire duration of the haircut. Try every possible way that you can think of to minimize the sensory input that will be perceived by your child through the help of calming tools. You can let them wear headphones and listen to the musical playlist of their choice or play games on a phone or tablet to keep them distracted. If these tools are not practical in the actual scenario, you can tell some interesting stories to your son that will let them create images in their mind and stimulate them to engage in a conversation with you. You can also let your child wear a heavy-pressure vest or jacket that will help keep them calm throughout the whole process. If the hair cutter needs to apply gel or shampoo into your child’s hair, or baby powder into the neck area, you can bring your own autism-friendly brand of the product and have it applied as a substitute. This will prevent your child from inhaling strong-smelling substances or feeling the irritant material on their skin.
A reward system can go a long way in encouraging your child to undergo the whole haircut. Treating them to an ice cream parlour, or buying them their favourite sweets or toys is already heartwarming enough even for the most neurotypical child to feel rewarded. However, be sure not to spoil your son by going for expensive stuff as your reward. As much as possible, propose rewards that involve you spending time together with your son, to create more quality time and treasure-worthy moments. You must also not trick your son into believing that you’ll actually do your part of the deal when in reality you’re not. This will not only decrease your son’s trust in you, but it will also cause a meltdown to trigger, especially after your son not getting what he wants.
In sensory-filled activities such as a haircut, your presence and support are highly needed by your son. If you can’t go with your child due to your busy schedule, be sure to delegate someone whom your son greatly trusts and respects.