Making a Haircut an Inclusive Experience


Going to get a haircut for the first time is often a scary experience for kids, but the fear tends to subside with more visits. The same cannot be said, however, for neurodivergent kids, who have unique sensitivities that make any visit to the salon or barber a challenge.
Being neurodivergent means you experience the world differently from many people. As many parents of children who have sensory processing disorders know, this can turn what might seem like a common errand into an ordeal.

(freeograph/Adobe Stock)

This is because neurodivergent children often have sensitivities to sights, sounds, textures and other sensory stimuli. Autism Research Institute describes this phenomenon as a result of their senses being over- or under-reactive to stimulation. They process sensory information differently.

Some children on the autism spectrum experience synesthesia. Synesthesia is a blending of the senses where one sense can produce another sense at the same time. This means someone with this condition may hear shapes, perceive or associate a certain color with a sound or experience sound as a physical sensation. Sometimes, certain sounds or textures can even be felt as pain. According to research published in BMC Psychiatry, synesthesia is more common in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Autism Research Institute explains that these differences can present in a variety of ways, including withdrawing from touch, refusing to wear certain types of clothes or eat certain foods, distress when having their hair or face washed, clumsiness or odd posture.

All of these aspects can make receiving a haircut a uniquely challenging experience, and not every salon or barber is prepared to meet a neurodivergent child’s unique needs.

Haircuts involve a wide variety of stimulation, from touching a child’s hair to washing it, to the sound of the clippers or other customers to tolerating close physical contact with someone they may be unfamiliar with.

What Parents Can Do
There are a few things parents can do to help children who have sensory processing difficulties have a good experience with a haircut.

Family stylist Heather Parker, of Haircut Heather, in Columbia, has 12 years of experience in the field and has received training and certifications in working with neurodivergent children. She has worked with Verbal Beginnings — which provides social and therapy services in Columbia and beyond, with summer programs in the DMV — to provide haircuts for children with ASD.

The most important thing parents can do, according to Parker, is remain calm. If the parent and the stylist seem anxious, the child will notice.

As a stylist, Parker says the haircut process for children with ASD involves getting on their level and moving slowly while you figure out what bothers them. What overwhelms one child may not bother another, as every child on the autism spectrum can experience the world differently.

Another thing parents can look for is a stylist who cuts hair in a more intimate setting, such as a one-customer-at-a-time studio. The more intimate environment removes the stimulation of other customers and can comfort children who are shy or more sensitive to having eyes on them.

Parents can also prepare their children by introducing them to the idea of getting a haircut beforehand to give them time to prepare. Let your child know as much of what they can expect as possible. This might include showing them a video of another child getting a haircut, letting them watch you get your hair cut or reading them a story about a haircut. Reading books like “Even Monsters Need Haircuts” by Matthew McElligott or “Haircut for Lion” by Michael Dahl can be a great way to bond with your child and help them warm up to the idea.

For some parents, the best choice for your child’s hair may be learning to cut it yourself. For parents looking to go this route, visit for free tips for parents looking to give sensory-friendly haircuts. Calming Clipper also sells a 17-piece kit including a haircut guidebook.

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