Haircuts are challenging for kids with SPD for many reasons. There are many unfamiliar and uncomfortable sensations involved – the sound of the buzzer or scissors, the tug and release as well as brushing and washing tactile feeling, the vestibular rush of tipping the head backwards, and the disorienting positions experienced from the hairdresser’s chair moving up and down and spinning around. Who knew the sensory systems could be so bombarded by a typical routine experience!?
How can we help?
Provide predictability, control, comfort, and distraction
Provide predictability through play
Replicate the situation in play. First have him play that he is cutting a dolls hair – go through all of the steps – and then say it’s his turn and pretend like you are cutting his hair. Try to replicate the process as much as possible – wet his hair, comb it through and use your fingers to ‘snip’ it. This will help reframe the experience as fun.
Sit him in front of the mirror and have him “help”. He can tell the hairdresser- which part to cut next or have him reach up and hold onto the arm/hand of the person cutting so that he feels like he’s a part of the process.
If hair cuts and hair brushing and washing are challenging for your child make it part of your daily routine to play with her hair. Comb your fingers through her hair, rub his head, twirl strands of hair. This will help them to better tolerate the experience by reframing it as a loving gesture.
Let’s talk about accommodations for the sensory experiences.
Sensitivity to movement/vestibular input will make leaning backwards uncomfortable for him. Make sure he is sitting upright and supported as much as possible in the chair. You will have to skip the hair washing at the washing station. Have them spray his hair with a water bottle instead. If this is something he is not comfortable with then practice it at home as well. Play with spray bottles – have spray bottle water fights!
If he is sitting on the hairdresser chair up high and particularly if he is being “pumped” upwards – he will likely have a bad experience/response from this. The lower the better and make sure the chair is stationary when he is in it. Ask the hairdresser to move around him rather then rotating the chair with him in it.
Have her sit on your lap in the chair. Place your arms around her and give a big bear hug using consistent and even pressure. Deep pressure calms the sensory systems. Take deep breaths and remain calm. Your child will calm with your calm.
Scissors are a better option, rather than a buzzer, for kids who are sensitive to sound.
Even when all of these things have been done to prepare her for the experience, bring something to distract attention away from the process – just in case. I find a favorite TV show or movie or a movie or show they have been wanting to watch to be most effective.
One more note on predictability. Some children find the change of a haircut to be just as challenging as the experience. They will look different after than they did before. Show them a picture of themselves with the haircut they are going to get so they are ready for the change. Better yet! – if you have a few pictures with options of what her hair has looked like in the past and she can choose which one she wants this will also give her a sense of control in the change.
Remember – predictability, control, comfort and distraction. A little reward never hurts either!