Preparing for a haircut – tips for children with autism

We have looked at some practical ways to approach a common challenge facing parents when they take their child to get a haircut.

At SDN we often hear a common challenge facing parents when they take their child to get a haircut. There are often tantrums, meltdowns and tears. Parents seem to be struggling with the best approach to deal with this exhausting situation.

To support your child, it’s important to understand the underlying reason why they’re having a meltdown in the first place. All children with autism are different, but some possible reasons could include:

  • They don’t like people touching their head/hair
  • They feel anxious around new people or places
  • They don’t like the sounds of blow dryers, hair clippers or background noise
  • They are sensitive to bright lighting
  • They may be sensitive to the strong smells at a hairdresser
  • They fear getting hurt from the scissors or clippers
  • They don’t like the sensation of brushing or washing hair
  • They may have a negative association with words like “cutting”
  • They don’t have an understanding of how much hair will be cut off
  • They don’t like the sensation of hair falling on their skin.

Tips for getting the haircut

If possible, ask your child what they don’t like about going to the hairdresser. By knowing exactly what it is that they don’t like will help you find the best way to adjust the hairdressing visit to suit their specific needs.

The most important tip of all is to choose your hairdresser wisely. There are many hairdressers these days who advertise themselves as ‘autism friendly’. If you can’t find one of these, we recommend you find one who is  flexible and open to trying any of the following suggestions:

  • Prepare your child beforehand by talking about and showing videos of haircuts
  • Visit the salon a few times and just sit in the chair and meet the hairdresser before even attempting the haircut
  • Let them watch someone else who would be getting the same haircut
  • Find the best position to get their haircut in – it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the chair. It could be sitting on your lap, sitting or even lying on the floor.
  • Schedule an ‘out of hours’ appointment when the salon isn’t so busy
  • Utilise whatever calming toys/objects work for your child eg favourite teddy, stress ball, weighted vest
  • Allow your child to do an activity to keep them distracted while getting their haircut (singing, counting, colouring in, favourite device)
  • Choose a haircut, if possible, that won’t trigger their anxiety e.g. If the electric clippers are the source of their anxiety, then only get a haircut that can be done with scissors
  • Create your own social story of pictures for getting a haircut with a picture of the hairdresser, the chair, salon, scissors and clippers etc.
  • If going to a salon is too much, consider a mobile hairdresser who will come to your home
  • Or alternatively, consider learning how to cut hair yourself.

Remember the more prepared you are for the visit, the better the outcome will be for your child. It will be time-consuming, to begin with, but if approached in a sensitive manner by all the adults involved, the process will get much easier over time.


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