I have lots of friends whose little boys (or boys in general) always have the ever efficient “Brush cut”. Of course anyone who has ever had that style or even a woman who opted for the short bobs knows they all involve at some point… the clippers!
For some (like Stef) the quiet “hummmm” of the clippers and the gentle vibration as those little tiny blades whip back and forth is relaxing. It can actually put Stef in a state of calm or worse make him nod off to sleep – yes while getting a haircut!
However for kids on the Spectrum like Ted and Oskar… a haircut can be pure and utter torture. Both my boys seem to view the clippers as a tool best kept in dad’s workshop rather than an implement for cutting hair. The looks my boys have given me, even if I have tried to just clip up the back of their heads,… is one of horror. The moment the device is switched to ON, my boys whip their little heads around so fast, eyes blazing with a look that can only say “what are you doing crazy woman??!! That is not coming anywhere near my head!!!” And if I even pause for a moment before immediately turning it OFF, they will bolt for the nearest exit.
Even now at age 13, Ted is still reluctant about the clippers. He always asks if I can do most of the cut with the scissors and just do a little “finishing” up with the clippers. After even only a few minutes with the clippers, it still makes him extremely anxious despite having used them for years. We have even gone through the process of allowing him to touch the blade (seeing they won’t cut skin) and even let him use them on Stef’s hair!
Oskar, however is far, far from the clipper phase. We are still in the early stages of his “haircut tolerance training”. His haircuts are nothing short of a marathon and it usually takes two of us (Stef or Liv acting as assistants) in order to get anything accomplished.
So what does a haircut for Oskar look like?
Well, first we usually put up a video on a computer, sit him in the chair, quietly grab the scissors, take a chunk of hair and quickly cut as my assistant tries to catch the “chunk” and place it in a bag. We always start in the back and usually I can get about 4 cuts in before I get a look saying “break”. We actually stopped doing a lot of verbal praise like “great haircutting Oskar” because it just seemed to draw more attention to what was going on. He prefers to be only partly aware of what is going on in order to get the most done. Ted was similar with eating and I am the same when it comes to heights. Let’s not talk a lot about it when its all happening because I am fully aware of how high up I am and my goal is to just get back to safety as soon as possible… THEN we can have a whole discussion about it. I think the boys use a similar “defense mechanism” to get through the “trauma” and then you can praise and chat till the cows come home… just not when they are “focusing” on being calm. Makes sense!
If we are pressed for time (as in the haircut NEEDS to happen because of an appointment the following day) then I may try to squeeze in a few more cuts before I get “the arm” or a fuss or possibly a “no”. It’s not really a place either of us want to be. Since I need to “complete” the cut so it doesn’t look like I did it all with a butter knife and he certainly doesn’t want to be put in a super stressful situation since next time might prove to be even harder. No, I try to always plan well in advance for cuts so that I have ample time to work within his “comfort zone”.
What does it all mean for Oskar?
As far as sensory it is completely overwhelming. His visual, and auditory senses are completely taxed. Think about the sound of the scissors cutting close to your ears. The pointy ends coming close to your eyes. The feeling of the little sharp hairs falling on your arms and neck. Perhaps even seeing the hair falling in front of your face could be a traumatic experience. Why is this happening? When will it end? Without the concept of time, which even Neuro-Typical kids have issues with, having anything happen that is overwhelming to the senses creates a situation that feels like “time is standing still”. The concept of sequential processing is not a skill that Oskar has at this time.
My “assistant” and I will take a 5 minute breaks as we go over the plan for the next attack. There may also be a few bites of food in between for Oskar. Then while he is chewing we quickly go in for a few more cuts around the sides. The front is always more tricky. I want the bangs straight, but having the scissors cut across his forehead like they do in the salons is not going to happen for either of us! So I will eyeball what I have to cut and pinch it between my fingers and take a snip. I find usually saying “5 cuts” and then counting them up or down like the Count from Sesame Street sometimes helps. It really helped for Ted, but Oskar sometimes can be less enthusiastic and totally not into my game!
Depending on whether this was a planned haircut, meaning no deadline for finishing, or a rush job, because something came up, and he HAS to get a cut… plays a lot into the overall experience,… either doable or a high level of frustration! If I have the time I will only commit to the “basic” cut… most of the bulk is removed but there are lots of weird long pieces and no shape what so ever. So I will either tackle those bits later that day or the next depending on his mood. The “rush” job is always a gamble since I just give little breaks and keep at it till it’s done. However, since I am no hairdresser nor ever took a course in haircutting other than the occasional YouTube video by some stranger in their bathroom… it’s always a “crap shoot”! I have done enough cuts with Ted, Stef and girls over the years that IF I can have someone sit still, I can do a reasonably decent job with a simple trim.
This is what both Ted and I have learned over the years…
Tips for Haircutting
- Pick a day when both you AND your kid are in a good mood 😉
- Start with safety scissors (a new pair that you will only use for haircutting) then it alleviates some of the worry of getting poked with a traditional pair of cutting shears, and new scissors are less likely to pull hair.
- Possibly use a TV show, video, or other visual distraction so their attention is somewhat distracted.
- Stop before they experience too much sensory input and continue later that day, or even on the following day.