For a child on the autism spectrum, getting a haircut involves so many challenges. The combination of touching, sensory experiences, and sitting still makes a traditional haircut impossible.
In response, there’s been a growing number of “everyday heroes,” who have gone to great lengths to cut the hair of someone on the autism spectrum.
“These children go months without a haircut because they can’t deal with the sensory issues,” said Myra Hernandez, a salon owner in Florida who provides free haircuts to autistic children.
Why Are Haircuts Challenging for the Autistic?
Meleri Thomas, from National Autistic Society Cymru, explains that haircuts present unique sensory issues, saying, “The feeling of hands running through the hair, or hair landing on the face or body and the noise of the scissors can cause distress.” Additional triggers could include the feeling of wet hair, an electric razor’s vibration, or other noises in a salon.
In 2018, about one in 59 children are diagnosed with autism, presenting a significant challenge for many parents who need to have their child’s hair cut.
How Are Hair Stylists Accommodating Different Needs?
Here are a few ways that hair stylists are rethinking traditional haircuts to meet the needs of people on the autistic spectrum.
Beyond the Chair
“I’ll cut a child’s hair anywhere – lying on the floor, sitting on the sofa, sitting on the reception desk, on the windowsill, even in a car. I’ve learnt to listen to the child as well, if the child wants to go in the car I’ll say ‘let’s go in the car then’,” said barber James Williams who has worked with autistic children.
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Mason, a young boy recently diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder in the UK, was terrified of haircuts and would often run away whenever his barber, James Williams, would try to cut his hair. So in order to achieve a proper haircut, Williams knew he was going to have to get creative. Other stylists had tried to calm the little guy’s nerves, but each attempt ended in failure. That’s when Williams realized that the solution was to get on Mason’s level literally. Here is James Instagram @jtt_jimthetrim_barber 🔽 & Share to the 🌎🌍🌏 #sharpfade #elegancegel #teamelegance #zyist #StaySharp #barbershops #HairIg #Hairstyles #barber #barbers #barbershop #barbersince98 #barbersinctv #barbershopconnect #barberlifestyle #barberlove #barberlife #showcasebarbers #nastybarbers #sharpfade #thebarberpost #hairstylist #hairoftheday #hairs #hairofinstagram #hairstyle #hairdress #cosmetology #behindthechair #haircut
Quebec-based barber, Franz Jacob, takes a similar approach, lying on the floor next to the child in order to cut his or her hair.
Go Where They’re Comfortable
Sometimes, the salon itself presents environmental triggers such as different smells or mirrors. That’s why stylists are making home calls to cut the hair of autistic children.
In the case on one Irish teenager, the stylist moved the haircut to a minivan to help 14-year-old Evan feel at ease.
Take Your Time
Because it’s an untraditional haircut, the appointment will typically take longer than a usual haircut. It may even take repeated visits over a length of time for the child to grow comfortable with process.
For example, one child made bi-weekly barber visits for four months before the stylist was able to trim the hair around his ears.
Finding the Calm
For 10-year-old Jordie Rowland, it took two years of bi-weekly barbershop visits, as he only allowed a few snips at each visit before having a meltdown. However, the hair stylist eventually discovered that by singing “The Wheels on the Bus” during the appointment, she was able to give the child his first full haircut, leaving Jordie with neatly trimmed hair and the adults with tears rolling down their face.
Each child is different, so experiment with different solutions in an attempt to make the experience a good one.
Manage Noise Levels
Even in the best possible scenario, when an autistic child is getting a haircut, there may be screaming and shouting. While this would not go over well in a Zen spa, many salons are using off-hours or special days when it’s acceptable to be loud.
This frees up the appointment from being focused on keeping the child quiet, and instead lets it be about cutting the child’s hair.
Learn More About Autism and Haircuts
In response to the growing need, an increasing number of barbers and hairstylists are willing to do whatever it takes to cut the hair of a child with autism. For example, Autism Barbers Assemble is a UK-based organization that has created pop-up events and organized fundraisers.
Locally, the Ogle School community knows that the Autism Society of Texas regularly works within the public to educate people on how to better serve individuals on the autism spectrum. This includes everything from first responders to hair salons.
For tips specific to those in the hair industry, the National Autistic Society provides a set of solutions on how to help autistic individuals become comfortable with getting their hair cut.