Monday, October 19, 2015

Having Haircuts

Recently, a post about a little boy having a haircut went viral on the internet. Typical people getting their locks trimmed is not something that makes headlines or even the back pages of the news, but when the person getting their hair cut has special needs and the hairdresser (or any other service worker) is especially accommodating, then we sit up and take notice.

Little A has been traumatised about haircuts for years. Most infants scream or sleep through the first one, but then quickly grow used to it. Not so for those with sensory processing disorders.

After his first-ever cut at age one, when the stylist simply took an electric shaver and buzzed my son's hair down to his scalp, I've been taking him to a children's salon in a nearby shopping centre that specialises in haircuts for the young. Aptly called Cuts for Tots, this salon has the children sitting in toy cars with a small screen and dvd player at each of the 4 cutting stations. There are toys, dvds of every children's popular television show and cartoon film of the past decade or so, and the assistants are adept at distracting children with bubbles, squeaky toys and the like while the stylist does his or her job.

In our seven years of going to this salon, I've seen a crying child less than a handful of times. Little A, on the other hand, has needed up to three people apart from myself holding him down while the hairdresser trimmed his hair. The ordeal leaves us all sweaty and covered in hair (and in my case, tears and snot) but has always ended up with Little A having just the cut we wanted within 15 minutes.

The stylists are ninjas, ducking and whirling as Little A whips his lighting hands around trying to grab away scissors and shavers. The noiseless shavers may not make a loud buzz, but it is the vibration that drives my son crazy, and the sensation of cold steel touching the skin around or by his ears and neck.

We've done social stories, played his chosen dvds, had a number of people distracting him with different things, but it seems only sensory integration therapy has worked, or a combination of that, behavior therapy and just plain emotional maturity.

For the past two haircuts, Little A has not only worn the hairdressing cape without ripping it off, he has sat relatively still and only tried a few times to grab the cutting tools away from the hairdresser. I have been able to take photos from a few feet away rather than with one hand on Little A and the other on the camera. Better still, he tolerates the tools with only a minimum of intervention and reassurance.

It's been the same way with nail cutting, which for years I resorted to doing in his sleep when attempts to do so in waking hours were futile or incomplete. (My son is as slippery as an eel and strong as an ox, and has overpowered me bodily many times as I have attempted MMA holds to get his nails clipped.) After establishing a regular routine for nail clipping, the screaming, kicking, biting and head-butting that used to be a matter of course tapered down to whining, pushing me away, and curling his fingers into claws I needed a second person to hold open, and eventually down to zero complaints, just the same video playing every time his nails are clipped.

Progress is being made on the life activities front. While there is still a ways to go, I'm happy with the way things have developed, and Little A must be much less anxious about these activities than he used to be.

So, onward to the next huge challenge - visiting the dentist. 

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