Tips to help children with autism feel comfortable at the hairdressers

Kids' hairdressing salon Red Nose Kids Cuts can't keep up with demand due to the lack of trained apprentices.
Kids' hairdressing salon Red Nose Kids Cuts can't keep up with demand due to the lack of trained apprentices.  Photo: Getty Images

For some, getting your hair cut is an enjoyable experience but for a child with autism haircuts can be difficult.

Earlier this week a barber in Wales was praised for his patience in finding a way to cut the hair of a four-year-old boy who has autism.

A spokesperson for Autism Spectrum Australia said: "It's not a one size fits all approach but I imagine he listened to the parent and experimented with a range of techniques."

Haircuts can be a trying experience because of how a child with autism processes sensory information. 

The spokesperson added: "Many children and adults on the autism spectrum are sensitive to aspects of the environment that don't bother other people.

"One example can be sensitivity to touch so that, for these people, the feel of scissors, clippers or even other people's hands against their head causes extreme discomfort or even pain.

To help parents and hairdressers prepare for a child's haircut, the service provider for autism and other disabilities has some advice.

Tips for parents:

Consider the venue

Ask yourself, is your child ready for the salon? If you think the social experience will be too much, "Can you organise to have a hairdresser visit you at home instead? Or can you cut their hair yourself?"

Use visual examples

Viewing photos and videos together online of the salon you will be visiting, but also of what's involved with a haircut "to prepare the child for what it will be like." Hairstyle apps such as Toca Hair Salon can be a fun way to introduce children to hair cuts. 

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Bring a distraction

This could be a favourite game on your phone or tablet, portable DVD play or even bring their favourite type of food or snack. 

Choose a time of day that works for the child

"Choose a time that your child will be more willing to try something new. It may help you to go at the very end of the day when there are no other patrons." Don't book a time when the child is likely to be tired. 

Be flexible

At the end of the day, it's only a haircut and the salon will still be there when you are ready to try again. "If your child's mood or behaviour is telling you they aren't ready to try something new; reschedule."

Tips for hairdressers:

Listen

"Listen to the child, whether they speak with you or use other forms of behaviour to communicate their preferences with you." Parents will also have a good idea of what to expect, as well as ways you can support and build a trusting relationship.

Stay calm but be prepared for sudden movements

Any time during the cut, the child might wish to stop the process; "Schedule a little more time than usual to ensure the child's safety." Spray the comb or brush with water instead of directly onto their hair and be sure to explain what you are doing every step of the process. 

Make notes for the next visit

"Make notes about the child's preferences so that a visit to your salon can eventually become a part of their routine in their own community."

In the end, a few successful haircuts can make all the difference.

"In most situations, over time, children grow to become more comfortable with the experience even if the sensory challenges remain for them."

See more:

Starting school when you have autism

Sydney schoolgirl's powerful lesson about autism

Barber determined to find a way to give boy with autism a haircut