Successful Hair Cutting

  • Before your child’s haircut you may want to think about the following:-
  • Speak with the salon manager about just coming in so that your child can be acquainted with the environment
  • Schedule an appointment during a time when the salon is not as crowded so there are less distractions.
  • Identify reinforcers or preferred items that your child likes. For some children it’s a favourite toy or book, but for others it may be a treat. Your child can earn the item as a result of successfully completing the steps requested. For some children this may mean all the steps necessary for getting a haircut, for others it may mean to complete a predetermined number of steps. As these steps are mastered more steps can be added until the haircut is successfully completed. It is important that your child is successful and has earned the reward at the end of the sessions. This way the experience may be remembered as positive.
  • Take a digital picture of the reinforcer or preferred item to remind your child what they are earning.
  • Review the steps of getting a haircut with your child (see the visual schedule)
  • Practice the steps of getting a haircut with your child at home before bringing your child in for a haircut.
  • Get your child’s sensory system ‘ready’ for haircutting by using ‘deep pressure’ (proprioceptive) activities before you attempt a haircut. Some deep pressure activities may include:-
    • Firm ‘bear’ hugs: Squeezing your child between large cushions or pillows Rolling a gym ball or roll over them using a firm pressure. Giving your child a firm, predictable massage over their back, shoulders and arms and work up to their head. When massaging your child’s body go with the direction of the hair growth rather than against it.
    • Wilbarger Therapressure Protocol (if you have been trained to do this by your child’s OT)
  • When drying their hair use firm strokes rather than light touch. Firm touch is more organizing and calming than light touch. Some children can find light touch quite alarming. The same principles apply when you are drying down your child after their bath/shower/swimming – apply firm strokes with the towel over their body
  • At other times, when you are sitting down with your child, e.g. watching TV, give them a head massage. This will help them get accustomed to having their head/hair touched. Start at the back and shoulders and move up to the head, using consistent and firm pressure.
  • If you visit a hairdresser choose one that is understanding. Consider the use of motivating distractions that may help keep your child calm, such as their favourite music, could the salon play their favourite DVD?, iPad/iPod, etc.
  • If you visit a hairdresser, drive past the salon on your way to the shops, school, etc. If you walk your child you could walk past the salon regularly so that your child becomes familiar with the area.

Using a Virtual Schedule

Children with autism often benefit from visual supports and schedules. The visual schedule here outlines the steps necessary to get a haircut. Families are welcome to copy the pictures and create a visual schedule for their child. You can copy the schedule and check off the activities as they occur. Alternatively you may like to take a series of your own photos depicting the specific salon or hairdresser you use, and create your own schedule using a similar format.

The pages can be laminated and a dry erase marker can be used to check off each activity. This way the page can be reused for each visit. Alternatively you may like to cut out the photos and laminate them, and place Velcro on the back of each picture. The photos are arranged in sequential order on a board, as each step is completed the picture can be removed.

Some children may need to be reinforced with verbal praise, a preferred item, or a treat after each step. Others may be able to complete some, many or all of the steps before verbal praise or a treat is given. Each child will need to work at their own pace to achieve the skills necessary to get a haircut.

Create a virtual schedule for your child using the checklist below:

  • Go to a Salon

  • Check In

  • Meet Stylist

  • Sit in Chair

  • Hands on lap

  • Feet flat on the bar

  • Spray comp with water

  • Comb hair

  • Trim hair

  • Reward for a great job

Home Care & Grooming

To make home hair care more enjoyable for your child, here are some tips to ensure the experience goes smoothly:

  • Show the shampoo to your child. Let them smell and touch the shampoo. If you are going to use conditioner repeat the same process.
  • For shampoo and bath time you need to make this time fun but quick. Let the child have a bath toy to play with for comfort. Some families use an all-in-one shampoo and body wash product, which can make the process easier and quicker.
  • Give consideration to the perfume/smell of a shampoo or conditioner if your child is particularly averse or sensitive to certain smells. Conversely, consider trying to find a shampoo that has the aroma of a favourite (and calming) smell (e.g. strawberry)to make the experience more pleasurable.
  • If your child is sensitive to having their hair combed, use a leave-in spray detangler or conditioner. Using a detangling product means there is nothing to rinse out of your child’s hair and it will make combing their hair easier.
  • Comb your child’s hair with a wide-tooth comb, this will create less tension on your child’s hair and be more comfortable.
  • If you are going to apply a styling product on the hair, repeat the same process of showing them the product. Let them it smell and touch it and then apply the product to the hair.
  • To dry your child’s hair, first show them the hairdryer and turn the dryer onto a warm (not high/hot) setting with a lower speed. Blow some warm air on your child’s hands or arms so they can feel that it’s warm and will not hurt. This will also forewarn them that you are about to start drying their hair – so not startle or frighten them. Only when your child is comfortable with the hairdryer proceed with drying their hair.
  • If you want to use a brush to assist with the drying, use a paddle or vent brush. These types of brushes will not put added tension on the hair. Help your child to be involved in the hair care routine.
  • When brushing or combing longer hair, start by combing out the ends of the hair first and then slowly work your way up towards the scalp. This will help to gently remove tangles and minimize any pulling on the hair.