We took Cameron to get his hair cut yesterday, his 5th birthday is coming up in less than 2 weeks so we want him to look his best. Now, if you have little ones with Autism, you know just how much of a huge shock to the sensory system a hair cut can be to them. It has never gone well* but has been getting better with each hair cut so we knew it was just a matter of time before he finally became accustomed to it.
This time, we took him to the local Walmart for his hair cut. It’s not our first choice for a good hair cut but this time, there was a very good reason for picking it. You see, we went in, and went straight for the toy section where Cameron and his little brother found a lot of things they’d love to walk back out of the store with.
We told them both, and made it very very clear, that if they did well for their hair cuts, we would come back and they could pick something. Now, don’t think I’m crazy here, they had a limit of about $10 each so nothing too extravagant.
Anyway, Tyler found some bouncy balls and Cameron found Mario toys and Toy Story toys. He couldn’t decide which he wanted but he knew he wanted them.
So we returned to get his hair cut where he was very nervous, very shy and very anxious. We continued to assure him that it would be just fine and that he had toys waiting for him if he did well.
To our complete amazement, not only did he do well… he did exceptionally!! He put his head down, he didn’t squirm when the lady held his head, he didn’t shake his feet or hands when he was uncomfortable… he was perfect!! Well, next to perfect because you could see the obvious discomfort/uneasy feeling by the expressions on his face, it truly was bothering him.. but other than that look in his eye, you’d never have known.
He’s almost 5, which is to say, he’s still only 4… and to be able to deal with such a massive overload of the senses and an obviously very uncomfortable situation… let’s just say that I couldn’t be prouder. It takes a pretty big person to be able to do that at any age, much less 4!
As a reward, he got his Buzz and Woody, we also got him a Mario tshirt and an ice cream sunday… he earned it. Although he doesn’t get the tshirt until his birthday.
Anyway, bribery isn’t exactly endorsed by ‘the experts’, but it got him toilet trained and now it’s getting him through hair cuts. These are exceptionally difficult things to do for children with Autism. It’s hard enough for children that don’t have Autism! So like I’ve said a million times before… do what you know will work for your child, not what an expert says you should do. I know Cameron won’t become dependant on rewards, he never needs them the second time. I know his next hair cut will go just as well despite not being promised a toy.
But that’s because I now my son better than the experts do.
The moral of the story? My boy is all cute and has new toys so he’s happy too and therefore… I’m happy too! We all win!
*** Why does a hair cut never go well for a child with Autism? Well, you have to imagine just how many senses are at play that you and I probably don’t even notice. First, Autistics don’t like to be held, hugs are definitely out of the question, so when the barber puts their hand on your head and holds you down or starts moving you around… you might as well be torturing the poor child. Then you have scissors rubbing across your skull over and over again, especially weird around the ears…. they’re very sensitive for even me. Next you have all that hair on your neck, it’s itchy enough as it is but when you’re extremely sensitive? You’re feeling it all. And finally, the electric razor… that thing sends chills down the spine of even the most hardened individuals so you can only imagine if you’re extremely sensitive to those sensations… it tickles, it is very loud, it rubs the skin, it… well, let’s just say that there is so much at play during a hair cut that it can be easily overwhelming for the average child and may as well be war time torture techniques on an Autistic child.