Tips for Helping Children with Autism Tolerate Haircuts

Date: September 13, 2016

By: Sarah Pope, MS, BCBA, Assistant Vice President of Staff Development

A trip to the hair salon for adults typically includes a relaxing hair wash, an opportunity to catch up on the latest magazines and the wonderful feeling of a fresh, new haircut. However, it is not uncommon for children to be afraid of a haircut and it can be even more traumatic for a child with autism. There is a lot of activity in a hair salon that can be bothersome like the sounds of scissors clicking, hair dryers running, the buzzing of clippers or water in the eyes. Any of these things can increase a child’s hesitation to get a haircut, and can even cause episodes of tantrum type behavior.

To help ensure a stress-free trip to the salon, below are five tips to help your child tolerate getting a haircut.

  1. Avoid peak times. Call ahead and ask for a time when the salon is typically less busy and chaotic.
  2. Arrive early so you can discuss any concerns with the stylist. Explain that your child could be overly sensitive to the hair cutting process and reassure the stylist that you will be available to help your child, if needed.
  3. Provide your child with a preferred item to hold. A favorite stuffed toy or a security blanket might help your child sit still. If this doesn’t work, you may want to consider having your child sit in your lap to make he/she more comfortable.
  4. Provide your child with frequent rewards and reinforcement to encourage good behavior during the haircut.
  5. Stay calm if their behavior escalates. Take a break, walk around and then calmly guide them back to the haircutting area to complete their haircut.

If these tips are unsuccessful and your child continues to resist a haircut, discuss this with your child’s ABA therapy team. They will understand your child’s particular triggers and can suggest ideas that are customized for your child’s individual needs.