Monday, October 10, 2011

Tips to Improve Hair Cuts For Children With Autism

For children with autism, getting a hair cut can be a difficult experience. For their parents the experience is often painful and full of stress, tears and frustration. When my son was first diagnosed with autism my wife and I struggled taking him to get hair cuts. We would often wait weeks past the time when his hair would look ragged and long, just to avoid the barber. After learning some small tips and developing a plan, we now are able to get his hair cut without issue. This process takes time and patience, but is worth the effort. As a father of a child with autism I have been there and understand how difficult it can be to take a child to get their hair cut. I have been slapped, scratched and my son has had a number of meltdowns that have left me on the verge of tears.

I recall specifically one time when I walked into a Circus Cuts and was relieved to not have any people there. As the hair cut progressed my son melted down and after thrashing, scratching and screaming I was blinded by hair, and the smock. As my frustration grew I began almost yelling " I did not sign up for this" and at the same time look up and saw two families just staring at us like we were from another planet. I was at the end of my rope and needed to do something. We decided to use skills learned from our Applied Behavior Analysis team. The first thing we did was take data on the events that led up to us going to get his hair cut and what scared made him lash out once was in the chair. We knew that his behavior had to stop, but first had to understand why he had these behaviors. Once we did that we were able to come up with a plan. This plan was to slowly get him accustomed to getting his hair cut buy taking it in very small steps. The steps included having him understand all of the steps of a hair cut, what it took to get to the barber and the tools used to cut his hair. Now that he had this information we could start shaping his behavior. We also had to lean what reinforcers worked best for Collin.

We already knew that clippers were a problem for him, so we discussed how he would not have to use the clippers and that he would only use the scissors. This discussion included picture cards, and actual scissors and clippers so that he could generalize what we were teaching him. At the time our son was non verbal and we needed to work on his receptive behavior and develop communication skills through pointing, and eventually verbal cues. Once he had mastered the skills of identification the hair cut process we could move on. The first reinforcer that he had in this process was that he did not have to use the clippers, a huge relief to all of us. After he was able to progress enough, we began to take the small steps to shape his behavior. We would take a step and then go home. Our first step was to talk about his hair cut and get him into the car. When he mastered that without a meltdown, we moved on taking small steps until we go him into the chair and finally able to get his hair cut. The amount of steps necessary will vary with each child, but whether it takes a month or a year, the end result will hopefully be that your child will get a haircut without a meltdown, or at least the bad behaviors will subside. Today we can go get our hair cut with out incident. He still tells the stylist "scissors only" when he gets in the chair. When he is done, he gets a lollipop (sugar free and organic) and we are off to our next errand or the playground.

Garrett Butch is the father of a 6 year old with autism and the founder of Maximum Potential Group.

Maximum Potential has developed courses created by two PhD BCBA's that train parents and school systems how to work with children with autism. To learn more about ABA and how to learn how to work with autistic children at home visit our web site.

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