For young children who are on the autism spectrum or have sensory issues, haircuts can be nothing short of traumatic. No, not because they are afraid of coming out of the appointment with bad bangs or an uneven trim, but because of the sensory response it evokes. While haircuts may never be easy for your child, our hope is that we can make them slightly less traumatic for both you and your child with these tips from an occupational therapist.
Why do children with sensory issues struggle with haircuts?
If children have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or sensory issues, they may be highly sensitive to sensory input: visuals, sounds, smells, touches or textures, and flavors. If a child is highly sensitive to touch, then there are already many aspects of a haircut that they will find highly upsetting, from pieces of their freshly cut hair clinging to the back of their neck to their hair stylist touching their head or neck during the trim. If a child is highly sensitive to lighting, they might find that the bright lighting in most salons is not just uncomfortable, but bordering on painful. There are also many different sounds in a salon, including loud conversation, hair dryers, running water, and the buzz of hair trimmers. Especially if you visit a salon that is typically bustling with activity, it can be difficult to shield your child from the unpleasant sensory input. However, there are many ways that you can help make the experience less traumatic.
5 tips for kids who hate haircuts:
Do your research on salons: If you notice your child is becoming overstimulated at bigger salons, perhaps there are smaller salons in your area that your child would find less overwhelming. There may be a facility that is relatively calm and quiet, which will better suit the sensory needs of your child. When you speak with the salon, it might be helpful to find out times when they are typically less busy, so you can schedule accordingly.
Utilize social stories: Many children on the spectrum benefit from social stories, and haircuts are no different. It may be calming for your child to see all of the steps of the haircut process laid out into a social story, to eliminate some of the unpredictability of the activity.
Model behavior: The day or hour before the hair appointment, you could set aside time to have a pretend hair cut. During this time, you can model the appointment and explain (step-by-step) what will happen in the appointment. To make this more of a fun activity, you could have your child practice giving you a haircut. This may help reduce their worry, by making it a fun activity!
Schedule your cuts together: It might help to schedule your hair appointment on the same day. If you go first and your child is able to watch you calmly enjoy the experience, they might be more ready for their own haircut.
Bring a weighted blanket or sensory toy: The comfort of a weighted blanket can be helpful for an anxious child during a haircut. A sensory toy might also help to distract them.
If your child has issues with haircuts, a pediatric occupational therapist may be able to help! At Chicago Occupational Therapy, we offer a wide range of services, including applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. Contact us by calling 773-630-4400 today to learn more about pediatric occupational therapy!