For so long growing up I could NEVER get my haircut in a barbershop. Crowded places like that would make me feel uneasy, the sound of scissors would make me cringe and when hair would fall after being cut I’d shiver like thousands of little pins were stabbing me in the back of my neck. That’s why for several years I had hair that would go to my shoulders. My parents were afraid because of my sensory overload that even the attempt of a haircut would be too much for me.

Once I got to middle school though my parents and I needed a change. We started meeting with our friend in her house to have my hair cut and we never looked back. Being in a quiet surrounding with someone I felt comfortable with did wonders. Years later I would start going to a salon after having the muscle memory of dozens of successful haircuts from home.

Now as an advocate and public speaker on the topic of autism I wanted to share several things people with autism want you to know about cutting their hair…

  1. When you give us a “game plan” we will feel more comfortable

When you are in the room with us give us an idea of what we should expect. Will we need our hair shampooed beforehand? Will you be using more than just scissors like a razor or trimmers? The more directions you give us the more comfortable we will be. For younger kids visual schedules are AMAZING to help us get on track.

  1. Cutting our hair may be completely different than the next person you meet. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

For my parents it helped having someone cut my hair in house. For others it may be sitting on the ground with them while they play a game (see the story of a barber who went the extra mile for a boy with autism). The old saying of “If you’ve met one individual with autism you’ve met one individual with autism” rings true for cutting our hair too. Playing up to our interests can go a long way.

  1. Positive reinforcement and reward systems can go a long way

Every time I got my haircut my family promised me something fun like going to the movies or getting a treat. Getting our haircut can be an overwhelming experience. Give them something to look forward too and it may help with some of the stress/overload they may be feeling!

  1. Sometimes it might not be necessary to cut our hair right away!

Many kids on and off the spectrum hate to have their haircut. Some children have their hair grow faster than others. Is their hair that messy? If a child can keep their hair longer for a little while longer you may be able to ease them into the experience when they are older.

  1. Make it fun so you can form that relationship to build that trust!

Regardless if you are a barber or cutting your own child’s hair, take some time to self reflect on what your child enjoys the most. Maybe it’s a specific they enjoy or maybe it’s talking about a certain topic? For those who are nonverbal maybe there’s a game they could play on an iPad if they have one.

Haircuts can be challenging for our loved ones on the spectrum but they can be possible for some with the right preparation. Hang in there and the next time they need a trim make sure they know that you are there for them the entire way. That may be one of the most important tips of all to have your child have the best haircut experience ever.

Autism Speaks has partnered with Snip-its and Melmark New England to develop a haircutting training guide to provide information to families and stylists as to how to make the haircutting experience more positive for children with autism.

The haircutting training guide provides additional information for stylists about autism and what stylists can do to make the process more successful. There is also information for families and caregivers about how to prepare for a haircut, and a visual schedule that can be downloaded and used to help the child to understand the steps involved in getting a haircut. Information about home haircare is also included.