Autism and Haircuts

Your first hair cut is a right of passage, if you avoid your mum or dads bowl cut attempt then your first visit to a barber or hairdresser can be an exciting experience. However, the haircut, which is an ordinary experience for most children, can be exceedingly difficult for children with autism.

It certainly has been for my two boys.

I still remember taking my eldest for his first haircut, we used all the techniques we had been taught at that stage, prepare the child, we used visuals and talked him through what would happen.

We explained to the hairdresser at the time that our little boy was autistic and that he might react in a certain way to the haircut and the environment. She was very understanding and patient, but nothing prepared us for his reaction.

No sooner had we settled him into the chair and the barber adjusted the seat when he bolted out the chair and headed for the door. He reminded me of Taz, the Tasmanian devil in his haste to escape.

What was his trigger, he seemed relaxed and we were perplexed as to his reaction?

On reflection, it was the electric clippers. Even now at 13 he finds these stressful but at 2 and on the autism spectrum it was just too much?

The first attempt failed but we didn’t give up we stuck with the same barber and we went back continually until he finally settled it took time, it took patience and it took a process but he avoided our attempts at home hair dressing!

The irony is with the Covid lock down everyone of us in the household is receiving DIY haircuts but hopefully we won’t have to start the process again when lockdown ends.

I’d like to share with you some of the techniques my wife and I have used over the years which have worked for us and hopefully can ensure your child is less stressed the next time they go to the barbers.

Before your child’s haircut you may want to think about the following:

Speak with the barber or salon manager about coming in for a visit to them, so that your child can see the environment and become acquainted with the surroundings.

Schedule an appointment during a time when the place is not as crowded so there are less distractions for your child.

Speak with the barber or stylist beforehand. Explain the situation to them and discuss about any particular sensitivities that your child may have. They may even have experience of helping children with autism and offer you advice of what they have seen working for them.

Does your child have a special toy or book that makes them feel safe and secure? If so, consider bringing it with you.

Do you use a reward system with your child? If so, it might be an idea to think about utilizing this for a haircut visit.

It is a good idea to outline all the steps necessary for getting a haircut. It may take time and a few attempts, but as each milestone is achieved, you can build upon this until the haircut is successfully completed with minimum stress. 

Practice the steps of getting a haircut with your child at home before bringing your child in to the barber.

Think about using a visual story of the haircut experience.

I have attached a social story I came across which you may find useful.

Good luck everyone.