Haircutting Tips and Tricks

Haircutting Tips and Tricks

Krystal Showers MSOS, OTR/L

Haircutting is one of the most difficult routines for children, especially boys, with autism. It is consistently an area that parents mention is so difficult for them, and a nightmare for their children. When we stop and break it down, it is easier to understand why this routine in particular sends so many households into panic. Families literally plan out haircutting day/ night, recruit support via extra hands and bodies to help, amp themselves up for what it means with meltdowns, and prepare to deal with a half-buzzed head for a while if need be!

Let’s look at haircutting from a sensory processing perspective first before we get into some tips and tricks!

Auditory

This is the big one for our friends with autism. I had one child describe the sound of high pitched noises, like the buzz of clippers, as “a sharp needle that stabs all the way into my brain”. Think- how would you like that right up next to your ears, let alone tolerate it for a good 15-20 minutes without becoming upset! Children with autism often have very sensitive hearing and can have difficulty filtering out noises. The sound of clippers can be unnerving, especially in a barber shop where there may be more than one pair going at a time or multiple people talking at the same time.

Tactile

Haircutting involves vibration tactile input which may be aversive to the child. What we may consider as a “tickling” sensation from the vibration, may actually feel like sandpaper or pins and needles. Even if you are using regular scissors, the light touch of their hair falling on their neck or skin can feel painful and like they are being stabbed with each tiny hair.

Movement/vestibular

Many children with autism have a high need for movement. Sitting still in a seat for a haircut can be very difficult. For children whose vestibular or movement sense is very poor, sitting still can be almost impossible as they crave movement as a basic need….just like food when you are really hungry!

Smell

If your child is getting their hair cut in a salon or barber shop there can be a LOT of smells in one small space. Children with autism can have a very sensitive sense of smell and can respond negatively to smells that others may not notice or be bothered by. With all the different people, shampoos, conditioners, dyes, etc., it can be a lot to take in!

How to make this routine easier for you and your child!

Auditory Strategies

  • Use scissors to cut hair rather than clippers
  • Provide headphones and music the child can control to help block out clipper sounds
  • Try haircuts at home or during very slow times of the day at a barber shop to decrease the amount of sounds in their environment

Tactile

  • If you have been trained in the Deep Touch Pressure Protocol by your occupational therapist doing the brushing protocol prior to haircuts will help your child stay calm and decrease some of the sensitivity to touch
  • Try to cover ALL the skin that stray hairs could land on using a towel or smock
  • Let the child experience the vibration from clippers on their hands first (ie: let them hold the clippers without the blade on so they can feel and get used to the vibration
  • Before starting, provide some deep squeezes to the child’s head (like a firm head massage) moving down to shoulders and arms as well to help prepare the child and give some calming input

Movement

  • Use a move-n-sit cushion during haircutting so they child is able to get some movement but still stay in their seat
  • Engage in intense swinging, spinning or bouncing prior to asking the child to sit for a haircut
  • Take short movement breaks to stand and jump and then sit back down

Smell

  • Try haircuts at home or during very slow times of the day to limit the number of extra smells the child is exposed to
  • Bring a small cloth with a favorite smell on it (ie: lavender or peppermint essential oils) for the child to hold up to their nose when the other smells become overwhelming

 Here’s a video of Caleb getting his hair cut. Check out his sweet cape!

Caleb gets super duper fly.

And here’s a video of Caleb cutting daddy’s hair!

Daddy’s gets what he dishes out. 

One Comment

  1. When John was in pre- K his teacher invited a hairdresser and some of her co workers in to help desensitize the kids to the sound of scissors and clippers, etc. With signed permission slips the kids (all boys) were given haircuts. Prior to this we had tried salons, barber shops and even our own version of hair cuts when John was asleep. He would not sit still, would have meltdowns. the person attempting to cut his hair would have no patience, etc. When John came home from school that day he had the best haircut EVER up to that point. I wrote the teacher a note the next day asking for the name, address and phone number of the amazing lady that had cut his hair. When it was time again for a trim I called her. When we took him I was immediately impressed with how kid and patient she was, how she interacted and talked to John and us. She also shared that she had used this rubber hair cutting guide which had weights and laid over his shoulder. It calmed him and gave him sensory input he needed. He sat in her chair and LET her cut his hair with scissors as we stood watching in amazement and again came away with a wonderful haircut!! From that point on with only a few exceptions she became his official hair cutter. She also became our family’s official hairdresser/barber. Gradually over time she was able to introduce and use clippers on John. At the time of his death November 27, 2016 John was 14 years old. He had just started high school and had started growing facial hair. A little over a week before his death we took him to Mrs. Sue for his pre-Thanksgiving hair cut and she asked if we wanted her to TRY to give him a shave. Once again he amazed us and let her shave his mustache and beard. Little did we know this would be his first and last shave. https://www.facebook.com/angela.mckissick/media_set?set=a.10154623492953224.1073742091.536818223&type=3

Holler at me!