For many people with autism, a haircut can be a challenging experience. There are unfamiliar sounds, smells, and feelings – it’s truly sensory overload. However, it’s a necessary and semi-regular task, so we’d like to offer a few tips and ideas to make your child’s next trip to the salon or barbershop a little easier on everyone.
Do Some Prep Work
As a parent of a child with special needs, planning ahead is always step one. Take the time to find the right hairdresser for your child. Look for someone patient and calm who is willing to take the time to work with your family.
For children on the autism spectrum, visual cues are important. Mark the haircut date on the calendar so your kiddo knows it’s coming up. Use social stories and give your child plenty of opportunities to ask questions so they feel prepared. If possible, visit the salon ahead of time so they can watch another kid (or a family member or friend) get their hair cut.
Consider Options for Hair Washing
Washing your child’s hair can come with additional sounds, smells, and sensations, and it’s one part of the process you may be able to control. Consider washing your child’s hair at home ahead of the appointment to avoid doing it at the salon. Alternately, offer your kiddo goggles to keep any water out of their eyes.
One more way to do it: Give your kiddo a spray bottle and let them wet their hair themselves. The extra fun and control may help overcome a little of the discomfort.
Hair salons can be loud, and that’s even before the hairdresser is working close to your kiddo’s ears. In addition to booking an appointment at a lower traffic time, consider offering your child a comfortable pair of ear plugs before entering the salon.
For children needing shorter cuts, ask the hairdresser to use scissors and skip the clippers.
It may feel like Parenting 101, but it’s always good to have a reminder. Offer your kiddo a distraction while they’re getting their haircut. Whether it’s a fidget toy or a favorite movie on the iPad, giving your child another place to focus their attention will help them relax.
Use ABA Therapy Principles
Remember to use positive reinforcement! Let your child know ahead of time that there will be a reward after the haircut – and follow through! Haircuts are an intense sensory experience, so choose a reward that’s equal to the task.
At Innovative Behavior Options we work with our clients and families to improve everyday life and increase independence. If you’d like to learn more about applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy and our approach, please give us a call at 770-250-0093.