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Emma Sterland
BY Emma Sterland

21 Tips for a Stress-Free Haircut for Your Child with Special Needs

Hair… washing it, cutting it, braiding it, in fact going anyway near your child’s crowning glory can be a nightmare for many parents of kids with special needs. The sound of the scissors, water in the eyes, the sensation of clippers – it can all be too much for many children, especially if they have sensory issues.

The following tips for hairdressing without tears have been contributed to Scope by parents of children and adults with special needs. We hope you will find them useful, and please feel free to add your own!

1. Swimming goggles

Tyne really dislikes getting water in her face, especially her eyes. We put swimming goggles on in the shower for washing hair. Showers and haircuts are a lot less trouble now.

2. Hairstyle apps

Hairstyle apps for your mobile phone allow you to try different hairstyles on yourself before getting a cut. Useful for people who don’t like change. Try adding mustaches and beards …. laughter can be a powerful cure for this phobia.

3. Hair color samples

Try giving the hair-color samples as finger fidgets during a hair cut. Great distraction.

4. Try a variety of brushes

If someone doesn’t like having their hair brushed, it could just be the brush you’re using. Try a variety of different brushes to find one they like the feel of.

5. Can do shampoo

Make it easier for someone with special needs to wash their own hair by getting shampoo in a pump. Avoids opening a slippery wet cap, figuring out how much shampoo you need and using both hands at the same time.

6. Use talc

Put talcum powder on the neck when cutting hair. It lets you blow the hair off easily and isn’t itchy.

7. Unscented shampoo

If someone is sensitive to strong smells, that could be one of the reasons they don’t like having their hair washed and/or cut. Try using unscented shampoo instead.

8. Cut it out

The word ‘cut’ used to frighten my daughter as she associated it with pain – cutting her finger etc. We started using different words like ‘tidy up your hair’ and found she was more accepting of the hairdresser.

9. Modeling video

To overcome the fear of having a haircut, it can help to show another person having their haircut. Videos can be useful to give people an idea of what to expect. Here is a video I have found useful for using with autistic children.

10. Haircut distraction

My 8 year old son with ASD would not let the barber cut his hair and would throw a full blown tantrum, until we tried putting a portable DVD player in front of him. Now he’s so distracted we get no more tantrums.

11. Good vibrations

For boys, use an electric toothbrush a few years before they need to start shaving. Helps gets them used to the vibrations and noise of an electric shaver.

12. ‘Visiting’ the hairdressers

I’ve found that taking my daughter to the hairdressers when she is not having her hair cut helps her see it’s not always scary. I take her when I’m having a cut or her younger brother is too.

13. A window seat

My son is very sensitive to hair cutting, but sitting him in the shop window to watch the traffic makes him slightly more tolerant. Still a few wiggles and bolts for the door, but much better.

14. ipad distraction

I take my son’s ipad to the barber’s and put his favourite clips on it to distract him, while the barber cuts his hair at the speed of light.

15. Do it at home

Some people cope with hair cuts much better if it’s done at home.  Ask around for recommendations, ask your local barber/hairdresser, or Google mobile hairdressers locally.

16. Wash it at home

Julie hates having her hair washed at the hairdressers. We just ask for a dry cut or just wet her hair with a plant spray.

17. Stress toys

When we go to the hairdresser we always take along stress toys or favorite books.

18. Ear plugs

Callum is very sensitive to noise. We find that soft, flexible ear plugs cut out all the noises of hair cutting.

19. Photo cue

I show Billy a picture of the actual barber shop and a picture of the barber who will be cutting his hair, so he knows what to expect.

20. Get the time right

Go to the Barber shop at the quietest times, so there is less time to wait. There is also the added bonus of less ‘people noise’ at these quiet times.   As our barber became more of a friend and he could see how distressed Pete was, he suggested we came back once he had closed the Barber shop for the day, so it would be just us in the shop.

21. Hair-free top to go

I take a fresh top for Wendy to change into as soon as her hair is cut – it lessens the ‘itchy feeling’. 

Emma Sterland

Written on January 28, 2014 by:

Emma Sterland helps run the online community at Scope, a national UK-based disability charity, offering support for disabled people and their families. All the tips used in this post were contributed by members of the online community, and can be seen in the tips section of the community .