Saturday, August 22, 2009

Haircuts & Sensory Processing Problems

Today I went for a was much needed! You know you need a haircut when you are wearing your hair up everyday because it won't do a thing. Yet, this is exactly why I keep my hair at a medium to medium long length ... if I am running behind or having a bad hair day, I just twist my hair up and secure it with a clip. Today, I was smart. I left the two little ones at home with Daddy. After all, I wanted to enjoy every moment of the haircut. I love the smell of the shampoo and conditioner rinses that are used at the salon I go to. I thoroughly enjoy my hair being washed by someone else and my scalp being massaged...relaxing! Then, I enjoy for the stylist to "fix" my hair! Sometimes, oddly enough, I enjoy the gossip and conversations I over hear as I am getting my hair done. Not because I am a gossiper, but because I just find other people's situations interesting.

This whole process gets me thinking of the young children I work with who have sensory processing problems and how they must really dread haircuts. Some of the kids I work with are sensitive to touch, noise, and smells....this would not exactly make for a fun outing when going to a hair salon. Some of the moms of these children have told me that a few of their tricks for making haircuts tolerable are:

  • Go to the salon at a less busy time when there is less noise and commotion
  • Go to the salon on a Tuesday earlier in the morning when the smell is less pungent or "loud". Most salons are closed on Sundays and Mondays, so by Tuesdays alot of the shampoo, hairspray, and hair dye smells have lessened
  • For the very first visit to a hair salon or for a visit that has had a long lapse in time, have the child visit a day or two before the hair appointment. This helps the child to get familiar with the person and surroundings including the large mirrors, chair up off of the ground, etc.
  • For the child who has touch (tactile) sensitivity, make sure the stylist knows to apply firmer pressure to the head as she is cutting. Bring a favorite blanket or towel to wrap around the child's shoulders instead of the plastic cover up typically used.
  • For the child with an auditory sensitivity, maybe a pair of scissors that make less noise could be chosen. Another idea is at home, let the child hear the sound of snipping scissors near his/her ears so that at the salon it is less scary.
  • For the child with anxiety due to sensitivities, poor discrimination, or poor motor planning, then consider making a social story. A social story is an individualized story about a particular situation. In this case, staple 3-4 pieces of typing paper together after folding the paper in half. Then, on each page list out what will happen at the salon. Keep the story positive such as saying "NAME gets to sit in the special chair while she gets a haircut" but don't say "NAME doesn't stand in the chair and jump off". Read the story every night for a few days or longer, before going to the hair cut appointment. This way the predictability about what will occur should lessen some of the anxiety. When children are less anxious, then the sensory sensitivities may not be as extreme.
  • For the child with poor balance or fear of heights, then consider getting a stool under the child's feet so he/she can feel more posturally secure. If necessary, have the haircut take place in a child's chair from the lobby as opposed to the taller adult chair. For these children, it is not recommended to tilt their heads back much when getting the hair washed.
  • Consider washing the child's hair at home before the haircut (that day or day before) so that the child only has minimal things done to his/her head at the salon
  • If you are lucky enough to live in a larger town, consider going to a hair salon that specializes in children. Some of these facilities even have "racing car" chairs to sit in to make the haircut more playful and fun
  • At the end of the visit, make sure the child is rewarded whether it be with a sticker, hug, verbal compliment, or special toy

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