Getting a haircut can be an extremely stressful event for an individual with special needs as well as those around them. The stressors may result from the child’s inability to balance their senses appropriately and/or anxiety about the unknowns of the situation. In addition, the equipment used can be intimidating and overwhelming and bring on a sense of fear. Furthermore, negative experiences from the past and associations with uncomfortable feelings can influence future haircuts. Please follow the recommendations below to help prepare your child for their next haircut!
Go at a Special Time
Schedule an appointment for an off day and time so the environment is less noisy and chaotic. If you are unable to find a good time, ask if anyone at the salon makes house calls. As parents and educators, we want our children to have experiences in the community; however, simulated experiences at home may be the key to future success in the community.
Utilize a Calendar
Upon scheduling an appointment, make a special notation on your family or child’s personal calendar. At the Phoenix Center, schedules are extremely important to our students. Schedules help them anticipate an upcoming event, identify when a change is going to occur and remain on task.
Arrange a Trip Ahead of Time
Take a trip to the salon a few days prior to your scheduled appointment. If possible, walk your child through the salon and introduce your child to the hairdresser who will be cutting their hair along with the different tools they will use. Be sure to inform the hairdresser of your child’s individual differences, it is important that they understand every child with special needs is not the same!
Prepare Your Child at Home
It is important to talk to your child about the haircut in advance. Use visual supports, social stories, pretend play and even ‘apps’ on the iPad, iTouch or iPhone to help your child learn what to expect. Describe the sensations that your child may hear and feel. In addition, show them how the hairdresser will use the different instruments (e.g., scissors, buzzer, comb, water, etc.). By preparing your child at home, you can desensitize them to the items/events at the salon.
Use Familiar Products
Many children with autism have a heightened sensation with smell. Due to the varying scents in shampoos and conditioners, it may be best to wash your child’s hair at home or bring the shampoo and conditioner they are familiar with to the salon.
When you get to the salon, make sure to take things easy and stay calm. Relax your expectations of what the experience should be like for your child. Allow your child time to adapt to their surroundings and to prepare for the haircut.
Fill a backpack with things your child finds reliably comforting or fun to watch or play with – DVDs, books, games. Having them available, may give your child a sense of familiarity. If your child gets over stimulated, find a quiet area and allow them to spend a little time with their items. In addition, bring an extra shirt in case your child wants to change after the haircut.
Haircutting Training Guide
‘Apps’ for the iPad, iTouch or iPhone
Toca Hair Salon
Toca Hair Salon 2
Model Me Going Places 2
Kid in Story
Phoenix Center Social Story
Social Story – Please reference pages 1-7