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The sensory-friendly haircut checklist

Sensory-friendly haircuts: The complete checklist

Updated: August 11, 2023 · 5 Minute Read

Kevin Simmons, “The Singing SLP”

Reviewed by:

Kevin Simmons, sensory-friendly barber and “The Singing SLP”

Highlights

  • If you're at a salon or barbershop, ask employees if they can reduce the lighting before your child arrives.
  • At home, if your child is sensitive to light, it may be better to cut their hair at night when there is less light.
  • Most autistic kids prefer scissors instead of clippers because they’re quieter and don’t vibrate. A pair of earplugs can be helpful at home or the salon.

Sensory-friendly haircuts accommodate people with sensory sensitivities (like autism, SPD, or ADHD).

Buzzing clippers, chatty customers, having to sit still for a long time — haircuts are hard for a lot of neurodivergent kiddos. But your kiddo’s knots are out of control, so what can you do? If you’re cutting your child’s hair at home or taking them to a professional, here are 7 things to consider for a sensory-friendly haircut.

 

1. A calm, quiet, familiar environment

At the salon: Choose a salon or barbershop that doesn’t have background music and minimal background noise. You may want to ask salon staff if there are certain times that are less busy than others. If you can, stick with the same salon or barbershop each time.

 

At home: Reduce any unnecessary noises. Schedule the haircut around a time when there won’t be any noisy landscapers or crying siblings. You can cut your child’s hair while they’re in the bathtub, on the couch, or in bed. Wherever they’re most comfortable is best. Familiar, comfortable, calm environments will help reduce your child’s sensory overwhelm.

 

2. Softer lighting

Bright lights (like fluorescent lighting) can be too much for kiddos with sensory sensitivities.

 

At the salon: Ask salon or barbershop employees if they can reduce the lighting before your child arrives.

 

At home: Choose a room with soft lighting. If your child is sensitive to light, it may be better to opt to cut their hair at night when there is less light. When it comes to artificial light, warm-tinted bulbs are easier on the eyes than cool ones.

 

3. Sensory-friendly tools

Most autistic kids prefer scissors instead of clippers because they’re quieter and don’t vibrate. A pair of earplugs can be helpful at home or the salon.

 

At the salon: Ask the cosmetologist or barber to use the quietest clippers possible. Discuss your child’s needs and hair type with the stylist beforehand so they can pick the best tools. You can let them know hair dryers or other loud tools will upset your child.

 

At home: Find out which clippers are quietest before purchasing. You can ask a professional or look through online reviews to figure this out. It may take some trial and error to find the tools that work best for your child’s needs and hair type.

 

4. Accommodating sensory needs

At the salon: A hairdresser or stylist should use techniques like gentler touch and taking breaks. They may provide calming sensory input, like a weighted blanket or a pressure technique during the haircut. If possible, they should let your child get familiar with the tools they’re using before starting. They might skip things like washing/wetting your child’s hair.

 

At home: Give your child breaks, let them fidget and stim, watch their favorite show, or play with toys during the haircut. You can even work on your child’s haircut a little at a time over the course of a few days. Help your child get used to the noise and feeling of clippers by playing the noise on your phone and letting them pretend to “cut” your hair.

 

5. Visual aids

Picture schedules, videos, and social stories can be helpful tools to reduce your child’s anxiety and prepare them for a haircut. You can show your child a video of a child their age getting a haircut to familiarize them with the process. If your child likes tracking things on the calendar, make note of the days they’ll have a haircut so they can mentally prepare.

 

Look at pictures and videos of the salon you’re taking them to, and let them know what will happen and when. It may be helpful to do a practice haircut (without actually cutting any hair) at the salon or at home a few days before the actual cut. You want to get your child as comfortable with the process as possible. There are so many ways you can use visual aids to make haircuts easier on your kiddo!

 

6. Flexibility and patience

This is key at the salon or at home. You want to work with your child and listen to what they’re communicating (through body language/cues and words). It’s okay to take a step back if something is bothering your child, wait a moment, and try again. “The key thing for me,” says SLP and sensory-friendly barber Kevin Simmons, “Is making sure they’re comfortable. So we can walk, we can watch their favorite TV show… I am on the child’s schedule, they’re not on mine.”

 

At the salon: The hairdresser or stylist should be flexible with the pace of the haircut, allow breaks, and adjust their method based on what your child is communicating. Patience and understanding are key to creating a positive experience.

 

At home: It’s okay if your kiddo is fidgeting or playing while they get their hair cut. Stimming helps kids handle overwhelming things. Pay attention to when your child needs breaks or what isn’t working for them. Go with your child’s flow and avoid getting visibly frustrated. You want to keep the whole experience as stress-free as possible for your kiddo and yourself! There’s no point in pushing either of you too hard.

 

7. Communication and cues

It’s important to keep in mind that all behavior is communication. Your child will be communicating with you and/or the hairstylist the whole time. What may look like misbehavior or being uncooperative can actually be your child’s way of saying they’re in distress. Be sure to use clear, simple language to explain what’s going on. You may also want to use sign language or visuals to communicate.

 

You or the barber should explain each step as it happens, such as “I’m going to tilt your head down now.” Knowledgeable stylists might use visual or tactile (touch) cues to signal what comes next. Kevin suggests telling your child how many cuts there will be. “I communicate to them that I am preparing to make 10 cuts. Typically we count out loud if we’re using the clippers and then I will show them and give them the vibrations that its ‘tickles’ were getting ready to do.”

 

At home, the salon, or the barbershop, you want to focus on your child’s voice and autonomy. Keeping them involved in the hair-cutting process will help them feel less anxious.

 

More on sensory-friendly haircuts

Check out our full guide to giving your child a sensory-friendly haircut at home. If you need ideas or inspiration, check out this tutorial for a sensory-friendly fade. If you don’t feel comfortable cutting your child’s hair at home, you can ask other parents to recommend a stylist who offers sensory-friendly haircuts. Some areas even have sensory-trained stylists that will come to your home. It’s okay to back out, leave, or find someone new if the stylist is not listening to you or your child. Whatever route you take, just remember to prioritize your child’s sensory needs, comfort, and autonomy.

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