Haircut Anxieties and Tips for Children with Autism
Is your child extremely anxious whenever he or she goes to get a haircut? If so, you are not alone! Having a haircut can be a distressing experience for children. However, with some patience and understanding of how to make the experience as comfortable as possible, it can help ease their anxieties.
Why are children so anxious about haircuts?
Haircuts involve many new sounds, sensations, feelings and smells that might make children feel uneasy. Research by Smith & Arbesman (2014) has shown that children with autism tend to experience unusual sensory responses (over response or under response) to touch and auditory stimulation.
Children with autism might feel uncomfortable with all the foreign variables, such as the sounds of scissors snipping, the sensation of cold metal coming into close contact, water spraying or even the noise from hair dryers. They may not enjoy the feeling of the neck towels, various noises, and even the smell of hair products. All these can be overwhelming for a child, especially as most of these occur behind their head where they cannot be seen and come upon them rather unexpectedly. Furthermore, children are expected to sit still in relatively good posture for a lengthy period, which is already challenging even for neurotypicals!
The combination of these auditory and tactile experiences can be painful for a child to bear. Fortunately, there are some strategies to make haircuts more comfortable:
5 tips to help children cope with haircuts
Before Haircut (Preparation):
1) Help children be familiar with what occurs during a haircut
Try acting out a scenario with a doll or stuffed animal, starting with sitting on a chair and wearing the barber cape. Encourage your child to participate by getting them to pick out a hairstyle. Offer toy scissors and continue giving pretend haircuts to the toy or even with each other! Tickle their face and neck with a makeup brush to simulate brushing hair away. It is beneficial to start preparing a few days before the actual haircut so that your child feels informed and less scared when it is time.
Social stories can be useful for explaining about haircuts and to prepare them for a visit to the salon. You can show pictures or videos of what a visit to the salon would typically look like. From there, you can go through steps such as arriving at the salon, sitting down, putting on the cape and so forth. Understanding the process could help mitigate part of the child’s fears.
2) Plan a visit to the salon
You can stop by the salon in advance and have your child visit the facility, look at how the hairdresser works and observe what is going on in the environment. If possible, arrange for an appointment with the hairdresser who will be cutting your child’s hair. This will take out some of the mystery and fear that the child may have.
3) Shift their attention from the haircutting process
Provide something your child can play with such as an iPad or fidget spinners during the haircut. You may also put on their favourite song or show. This helps to keep them occupied and provide a great source of comfort and distraction. If necessary, you may bring along earplugs to filter out background noises from the environment.
4) Bring familiar items from home
You can choose to use a towel from home and secure it with the salon clip so that your child has a sense of familiarity and make them feel more assured.
5) Have a little reward ready to celebrate!
Prepare a small reward like your child’s favourite snack (eg. Lollipop) or a visit to a special place (eg. Indoor playground). Haircuts can be tough on both sensory-sensitive children and also on parents, so enjoy a little reward together to celebrate the milestone achieved! This will make the child feel good and he/she might even look forward to the next visit.
The strategies listed above aim to help ease the anxiety levels of a haircutting experience for children sensitive to sensory inputs. Different strategies might work with different children, depending on the cause of their anxiety and their receptivity to the strategy, so try a variety out!
How do you help your child cope with haircutting? Let us know in the comments!
Written by Jermaine
Calming Clipper . (2019). Tips for Haircutting a Child With Autism or SPD. Retrieved from A Calming Clipper web site : https://www.calmingclipper.com/autism-spd-haircut-tips
HIE Help Center. (5 April, 2018). Haircuts for children with sensory processing issues. Retrieved from A HIE help center web site: https://hiehelpcenter.org/2018/04/05/haircuts-children-sensory-processing-issues/
Kiley, C. (28 September , 2016). Tips to help kids who hate haircuts. Retrieved from A Mama OT web site: https://mamaot.com/help-kids-hate-haircuts/
Lauderdale, J. H. (9 March, 2015). Haircuts and the sensory sensitive child . Retrieved from A Special needs blog web site: https://www.especialneeds.com/blog/haircuts-and-the-sensory-sensitive-child/
Smith, J. C., & Arbesman, M. (28 April, 2014). Evidence-Based Review of Interventions for Autism Used in or of Relevance to Occupational Therapy. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 62, 416-429. Retrieved from https://ajot.aota.org/article.aspx?articleid=1867092