How often do you think about the weight of your hair? Probably never, but for children with sensory issues, the feel, weight, and movement of their own hair can be extremely distracting. If his hair is trimmed just a bit he may notice how different his head feels for days afterward! A haircut may cause him to have trouble focusing on tasks from schoolwork to eating a meal. What's more, a new hairstyle that involves the hair being moved in a new direction (for example, cornrows, braids, an upsweep, or switching a part from the center to the side), and keeping it in this new position, may cause tears and cries for painkillers and cold packs.The sensitive scalp sensation may continue for days.
If you are a parent, discuss new hairstyles and haircuts with your child beforehand so he can anticipate the switch in sensations. Don't schedule his haircut on a day before he will need to be especially focused and free of anxiety, such as the night before school pictures are taken or before a big test, or the first day of soccer practice. Give him a head massage before cutting (press a vibrator or vibrating toy to his head if he prefers that). Let him hold the buzzing clippers and don't use them if the noise and vibration is too unsettling for him. Bring a towel and clip rather than using the scratchy vinyl cape with a Velcro closure, and take along an extra, clean shirt to change into in case he gets hair on his own despite the cape. If you can, plan a shower or bath after the cut so he can rinse off any hairs that are still stuck on his skin.
Beware of the smell and texture of grooming products, as well. Let your child choose which ones are tolerable, and ask the barber or hairdresser if you can have an appointment when strong chemicals aren't being used on another client.
And with younger children, avoid using the term "haircut" -the idea of cutting may be distressing to them. Say, "We need to get your hair trimmed and styled" or some such instead.
Be gentle with your child after a haircut. Offer praise and even a reward for getting through what for him may have been an extremely unpleasant experience. Allow him to wear a hat, perhaps a tight, knit one, if it helps him deal with the sensation of less hair on his head.
Of course, many children have difficulty with haircuts. But kids with sensory issues, or full-fledged sensory processing disorder, have an exceptionally difficult time. You might want to consider a simple, low-maintenance hairstyle for your child in order to limit the need to have her hair touched or manipulated often.