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. 

Heavy Work: WHAT it is and WHY your child needs it

“Heavy work” is kind of a buzz term in the pediatric therapy world. You’ve probably heard it a lot. You’ve probably been given handouts on it. Your friendly neighborhood OT has reviewed it with you (a dozen times if he/she is as awesome as MY friendly neighborhood OT is). But……..do you really remember what it is and why your child needs it?

If not, that’s ok. Let’s review. If you’ve never heard of it, prepare to be blown away.

Heavy work also goes with the word proprioception. Proprioception pretty much means body awareness- knowing where your body is in its environment, which is important because that’s how you navigate yourself around safely. When your child is doing heavy work activities, those activities are giving heavy resistance to their joints and muscles. When their joints and muscles get that input, it better helps them be aware of their body. Aside from being able to safely navigate through a classroom, playground equipment, your home, etc., this also is essential for things like balance and posture as well. This kind of input is also calming and can help your child’s attention span also. Socially, it also helps kids understand the concept of personal space by aiding with those body awareness abilities. Important note: this is different from vision. Some parents may confuse poor proprioceptive abilities as poor visual abilities but this it likely not the case. Call up that friendly neighborhood OT or your pediatrician if you have further questions on that 🙂 

So, why do we find that so many children with Autism have poor body awareness abilities and proprioceptive dysfunction? While exact figures vary, it is safe to say that the MAJORITY of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder have sensory processing deficits in some capacity- whether they are over responsive or under responsive to sensory input doesn’t matter. Proprioceptive dysfunction is a type of sensory processing deficit. So, it is not uncommon for professionals to treat a lot of children who need help with heavy work activities because it is an example of a sensory processing deficit, which is so extremely common in children with Autism. Another important note! Sensory Processing Disorder is NOT ADHD and it is NOT a diagnosis to be given in place of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Also, you can have Sensory Processing Disorder or sensory processing deficits WITHOUT having Autism. 

Ok, now we know the definition of heavy work, why it is important, and even why we see it so often in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Now…….what does it look like in real world terms????

Here are some examples:

Proprioceptive Avoiding Behaviors: 

– mistaken as “lazy”: may avoid “active” activities or be overly cautious during play

– avoids touch or tight clothing

– can seem uncoordinated: difficulty with stairs, for example

– may prefer quiet environments

Proprioceptive Seeking Behaviors:

– runs into people or objects

– plays roughly or seeks out “extremes”: climbing TOO high, for example

– uses a lot of pressure when touching people or things or touches people and things with extreme frequency

– difficulty understanding personal space

– chews on objects

– walks loudly (stomping)

Other signals that you may see in a child with proprioceptive deficits may include poor posture (slumping over on their desk) or difficulty with motor planning (riding a bike).

Now…..how can we address proprioceptive dysfunction? I’m so glad you asked! Remember that friendly neighborhood OT I’ve been carrying on about for the last few paragraphs? Go see her or him! Remember- I am a speech therapist, not an occupational therapist. However, I do consider myself qualified to speak on the matter of heavy work because proprioceptive sensory seeking behaviors are seen daily  in my home. “Why have my dining room chairs been pushed into various corners of the house?” Caleb needed some heavy work. “Why does he want to stand and open and close the cabinet door without plundering through the cabinet’s contents?” Cause he needed some heavy work. “What was that loud “thump” coming from the playroom?” Caleb jumping from the book-less built-in bookcase because he needed heavy work. Also, note my responses to those self-imposed questions……Caleb needed heavy work. He wasn’t being defiant. He doesn’t have parents who don’t discipline him. His sensory system is not integrated typically like yours and mine and in order for him to do all of the things expected of him in a given day, he needs proprioceptive sensory input. So, if my son jumping down your hallway in a Thor’s hammer sort-of-way is going to nudge your chotchkies off the display shelves on your wall, just don’t invite us over. We’ll meet you at the park instead.

I’m not going to make an extensive list of heavy work activities for you because I’d have to sit here all night. While the description of heavy work and proprioceptive input may seem complicated, the good news is that the solutions ARE NOT. Heavy work activities are some of the easiest and most functional activities that you could ever possibly incorporate into your daily routine with minimal effort. Click here to see my “Heavy Work” idea board on Pinterest. And also- because you know I can barely go a whole post without showing you what Caleb’s into- read about some of his favorite heavy work activities below!

FB_IMG_1486671880689

Climbing…..

20170127_093446

…..all of the climbable things.

11269743_1853196484904517_2580143580714702091_n

Especially up the slide. That’s one of the best!

10264017_1746181312272702_7614784738096971096_o

fb_img_1474638247394

Is that outdoor play equipment that used to live inside my house because 18 months ago our need for heavy work was that intense? You bet. It lives outside now, like it’s supposed to. Because we’ve been working hard.

FB_IMG_1486672226072

Jumping.

FB_IMG_1486672258674

Jumping AND wrestling is an even better combination.

20160812_070944

Jumping to wake up sissy also counts.

FB_IMG_1486672488275

13872933_2103578019866361_150811867439746965_n

Throwing, kicking, etc.

FB_IMG_1486672069893

Running. Especially up an incline.

11053505_1898782697012562_2557469665992177589_o

11828681_1899174390306726_7396945763830814845_n

Swimming. Kicking those legs against the resistance of the water? Heavy work ALL THE WAY. And you get to stay cool because heavy work breaks a sweat, ya’ll!

Before I sign off, please talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about your child regarding sensory processing abilities and any potential proprioceptive avoidance or seeking behaviors you see and ask for a referral to an occupational therapist. We want regulated, safe, and successful little ones!