A common problem for parents who have a child with autism, is getting a haircut.

Having a haircut can be difficult for many people on the autistic spectrum. The sensations experienced when having a hair cut are very different to those experienced in every day life. Even having your hair washed at home is different to having it washed, let alone cut in a different environment. Children may have experienced getting their hair cut only a few times in their lives. A trip to the hair dressers can be an uncomfortable experience for everyone involved.

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We would like to share some of our top tips on making the hair dressers as successful as possible.

1.    Go to the salon at least once before you have an appointment. It might be worth going on your own first. Looking at the salon itself and deciding if your son / daughter would feel comfortable in there. If you think they would, introduce yourself to the staff, explain why you are there.

2.    Take time to find a hairdresser who is understanding of what your aims are and how you expect to reach them. Let them know that scissors are going to be more successful than clippers, or that a specific gown might be best.

3.    Go back with your son / daughter, and allow them to sit in the chair with no expectations. Show them the combs, clips etc, and leave when you are ready. It might be worth doing this a couple of times. Perhaps meet the hairdresser on of the occasions.

4.    Don’t be afraid to take your time. Don’t expect to get the haircut done in one trip (and make sure the hair dresser knows this!). During the first appointment, aim for the hair dresser to comb the hair. Set another aim for the second appointment.

5.    Break the haircut down into many 10 second bursts, allowing breaks in between. Sit next to your son / daughter and reassure them the whole way through, explain that the hair will be combed for 10 seconds. Count down from 10, and then allow a break, a drink of water, whatever they may like at the time.

You are teaching a lifelong skill, so don’t be afraid to take your time. When we started this, we went to the salon twice before we even made an appointment to see a hair dresser. The first time you see the hair dresser, they may spray the hair, or comb it. That’s great. Instead of thinking, I wish we achieved more, remember the progress you make in each trip to the salon! Take photos each time as a diary of the success.

One of the important things to remember with teaching a skill like this, is that it requires regular practice. So, after a few weeks and the hair cut is finished, book to go back in a month. If it is left for a long period, the skill will have to be re-taught again.

I hope this has been useful. If you have any questions, or would like some more suggestions, feel free to get in touch.