Going to the hairdressers can be a very distressing experience for autistic children due to sensory issues such as a sensitivity to noise and touch.
In this article Jim the Trim, a hairdresser from Wales whose barbershop was awarded the National Autistic Society’s Autism-Friendly Award, gives us his Top 5 Tips on how hairdressers can make autistic children more comfortable during a haircut.
Top 5 Tips
- Take your time to get to know the person and for them to get to know you. You may have to be very gradual and just allow the person to come in and watch at first, then the next time sit in the chair etc. Build it up slowly.
- Book appointments when the shop is quieter – I open on a Sunday for autistic children and their parents. Book out an hour appointment for the session so there is plenty of time for the person to adapt to the surroundings and to yourself.
- Instead of making the person enter your world, you should enter theirs. For example I never make a child sit in the chair unless they want to, so don’t be afraid to sit on the floor and cut hair. Similarly don’t pressure them to wear a gown or to wet their hair beforehand.
- Be aware of sensory issues. Some children find clippers very distressing and I try to avoid using them. Let them choose if they want to use them, and if so, which ones. When using scissors I place them on my head to demonstrate that it doesn’t hurt, then I ask if I can place them on the child’s head. This can take numerous attempts but I won’t start to cut a child’s hair until I’ve gained their trust. Similarly when using a comb or brush, demonstrate on yourself what you will do. Then give the child the comb to try on your head and then their own.
- It’s essential that you always clearly communicate what you are doing. Be creative. Make up a game. Simple things like counting to ten for 10 snips can be helpful. Each autistic child is different, so be patient and try to be as creative as possible with changing how you might normally work.