The word haircut can be aversive for many children. For individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their parents, a haircut can be a more tedious occasion. Reasons for this can be a result of environmental variables, such as uncertainty, fear, and touch. The following tips may help aid in a more successful haircut experience for individuals who face difficulties with tolerating a haircut.
1. Visit the salon before your appointment.
It is important to be familiar with the environment before the appointment of the haircut. If your child has not been to the salon, we recommend you take them to visit the salon before the appointment.
2. Meet the stylist!
While visiting the salon, have your child meet the stylist that will be performing the haircut.
3. Explain what you need when making an appointment.
It is important when making the appointment to explain to the stylist any previous difficulties with haircut experiences. This way, stylists may allocate the appropriate amount of time for the haircut.
4. Sitting isn't the only option!
If your child does not tolerate sitting in a chair, this is not a major issue. If your they don't want to sit in the chair, attempt having them sit in a different chair or ask the stylist if they can cut the hair while your child sits or lays on the floor.
We also suggest asking the stylist if they are willing to do the haircut in shorter segments. Giving the child a short break of 1-2 minutes away from the chair between segments may help the child during the haircut.
5. How to approach wearing a cape.
A cape is used to keep the hair off of your child. For an individual that doesn’t want any hair to touch them, the cape can be a great tool. You can put it on easily, and they will wear it. For some, the cape acts as entertainment, especially if it has visual objects printed on it.
For children who are fearful of the cape or don’t like the feel of it, there is a simple solution. Don’t require them to wear the cape while getting their haircut! However, you will want to bring an extra change of clothes for after the haircut. Parents may also purchase their own cape and have the child try it on at home. Your child can practice wearing it for short periods. It is helpful to give your child a small reinforcer each time they will comply with wearing it.
6. How to face the shampoo bowl and getting your face wet.
Your child may be sensitive to either the temperature of the water or water pressure inside the shampoo bowl. If the issue the temperature, allow them to feel the water with their hand before getting their hair wet. If the issue is the pressure of the water, ask the stylist change the pressure.
If your child is fearful of water getting in their eyes, this is a simple fix. Simply ask for an extra towel. Then, fold the towel so that your child may hold it in a way that covers their eyes but doesn’t touch the hair. This technique can also be used if they are fearful of hair getting in their eyes.
7. Reduce fear by using desensitization strategies.
The sound and feel of scissors or clippers may cause fear. This is when desensitization strategies come into play. While in the salon, have the stylist show your child whichever tool they are going to use. Allow them to watch it moving in the air while the stylist is manipulating it. Tell them that it’s okay, allow them to touch the scissors, and allow them to touch the clippers as they are running before the haircut. By doing so, you will give your child exposure to the object to feel that it doesn’t hurt.
Another recommendation is to distract the child during the haircut. A video to watch or toy to play with during the haircut to distract them from what is occurring can be extremely beneficial.
8. Use verbal prompting to encourage your child.
For many children, the unknown of what is happening causes anxiety. For these individuals, it is best to explain every step of the process verbally. For Example: “I am going to touch your ear with my finger. It won’t hurt, and it will be fast.”
9. Common steps to take after the haircut.
After the haircut, many stylists use a bristle brush to brush off loose hair. After this, a common step is to put powder on the neck and face. The bristle brush is a tool that some stylists use to brush the hair off of the shoulders and face. The feeling of this brush may be aversive to some. If this is the case, ask the stylist to remove loose hair by a blow dryer or wipe it off with a towel.
Powder is designed to decrease itching. However, some individuals have sensitive skin that this powder may cause itching. Loose hair and powder may cause discomfort. A change of clothes may be needed at this step.
10. Praise your child when leaving the salon!
When leaving the salon, provide verbal praise for specific areas of improved toleration. I would also program in a tangible reinforcer as well. For many kids, verbal praise alone won’t be powerful enough. A great idea is to give your child a certificate along with a small prize to reward a job well done.
The more visits you make to the salon, the more equipped your child will be!