Crying for a Hair Cut


This isn’t the first time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, when I am forced to acknowledge that I need to be more aware of autism. For many weeks my son’s behaviors were increasing, reverting to old problems that I thought were behind us. He refused to wear certain clothes, became pickier in his eating habits, was melting down about planned dinner menus, insisting on winning every game, and controlling our entire family. And the sound of his brother softly humming? Infuriated him.

So I called in the team as each behavior settled in. Our in-home consultant had some great suggestions for supports in the home and ideas for easing his school day. I did some brainstorming myself. Then I met with his teacher, case manager and therapists at the school, and we talked everything through, step-by-step and left with our plans and individual to-do’s.

As an aside during the meeting, his teacher mentioned that his hair was pretty long and that it seemed to interfere with his ability to participate in class. She thought it might be bugging him. I sighed. A haircut?! Awful. We’ve had some harrowing experiences with haircuts through the years. Usually, I leave exhausted – emotionally and physically. My son is a complete mess by the time it’s over and his hair is never short enough. So I always leave weighed down by dread, knowing we’ll be back again way too soon.

It’s not like we haven’t tried to overcome this issue: hair cuts at home, bribes, social stories, step-by-step supports, distractions… As he’s gotten older, the meltdowns have eased, but he still balks at going, and I mean BALKS. Still, I made a mental note to get his hair cut in the next few weeks, while phase one of the intervention plans were implemented. These plans were good and everything that supports for a child with autism should be: sensory based, visual and child-directed. But the behaviors were not decreasing. In fact, they seemed to be escalating. While in the midst of this puzzling time, I finally worked up the resources to drag my son to the salon.

After many years of indifferent (if not mean) stylists, we finally found a patient and kind hair dresser that makes him comfortable. He’s been to her enough times that he’s made some real progress: will wear a cape, get his hair washed. There are no tears and very little cringing and trying to get up from the chair. For the first time this day, he let her really cut his hair. Out of his eyes and off his neck. There’s a huge pile of hair on the floor when she’s done. He collects his sucker on the way out the door, and we’re all careful not to mention his hair cut or his appearance.

But we do quietly make note of a change in him. Through the remainder of the day… no more behaviors. And this state of regulation continues into the next day and the next, to today. Everything is back to a manageable level.

So it was a hair cut, after all, that my son needed. I became aware that day and in the days that followed that my son may be smart and capable in so many ways, but he still has autism. And I need to be acutely aware of how that impacts him. He doesn’t make those connections himself; how a constant “little” irritant can affect him in big ways. This also reminds me of how pervasive sensory issues are in the lives of our kids, affecting so much of their ability to navigate their daily life. So, what little things do you make sure are taken care of for your child?

Author: Shannon

Shannon parents a son on the spectrum, lives in MN and writes to stay sane. She is passionate about connecting families to the services that will transform their lives. Read her full bio here.

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