Tips For Successful Haircuts For Children With Autism

Haircuts can be challenging for children on the autism spectrum. The combination of sitting still in a strange environment, along with the different sights, sounds, and feelings, can lead to stress or a meltdown. Fortunately, you can work with your child to help them overcome any fears or difficulties so that a haircut isn't a stressful event.

Tip #1: Practice at home

One of the key exercises to help your child be more comfortable at the salon is to begin by play acting a visit regularly at home. To do this, begin by creating a mini-salon at home. Get a chair where the child's feet won't touch the ground. If possible, a bar stool or similar type of chair works well because the feel is similar to the salon chairs. Drape a towel around your child and then use a spray bottle to wet their hair and comb it. Then, finish up by using your fingers as scissors to "cut" the hair.  This process may be hard for your child at first, so keep it short and positive. If spritzing the hair with water is too much, then step back and try a different tactic, such as wetting the comb instead.

Tip #2: Plan a preliminary visit

Once your child is comfortable with the basic idea of a haircut, move on to planning your visit. Your first visit to the salon should simply be to introduce your child to the location and the staff. Call ahead and explain the situation, and then ask if there is a slow time when you can stop by. Ideally, your child will be allowed a supervised exploration and a demonstration of how different things in the salon work. Then, you can schedule an appointment for the actual haircut. Once again, request a slow time for the appointment, preferably at a time of day when you know your child is in good spirits.

Tip #3: Set up a reinforcing plan

Have positive reinforcement ready for each step of the process. This could be any treat that works well as a reward for your child. If your child is capable of following all the steps, then save the reinforcement item until the end of the visit. If following the steps to a complete haircut is a challenge for your child, then bring several rewards and offer a reward each time they reach a predetermined success point.

Tip #4: Avoid known stressors

Some parts of the haircut can be more stressful than others. Some kids can't stand to have their hair washed, so skip the shampooing at the salon. If the noise or touch of an electric razor is frightening, then ask for a scissors-only haircut. Fortunately, most stressors can be avoided or amended so that they aren't as difficult for your child. Talk to an autism counselor if you need more help.

For more information about helping your autistic child, contact a counselor in your area.