Anyone who has ever had contact with a child with autism will know that haircuts are an absolute nightmare. And I'm talking a screaming, thrashing, violent nightmare. Every time I have ever entered a salon and asked a professional stylist to cut Adam's hair has ended with profuse apologies and the stylist's needing a stiff drink after the experience. I stopped taking Adam to salons at least two years ago. It just isn't worth it.
We started cutting Adam's hair at home with clippers - absolutely no skill but just a simple buzz cut to keep his hair short. That was a bit better for a while as he at least didn't have to cope with a strange place, unfamiliar sights, smells and sounds and at least could be in his own "safe space" at home with us.
It slowly got worse though - was it the buzzing feeling of the clippers? The feeling of the hair dropping onto his neck, shoulders and face? The fact of being made to sit in one place and not run away when he didn't like the experience? Probably all of the above. The problem with clippers is that once you start, you kind of have to finish - whether he likes it or not as stripes just aren't a good look.
But after the last experience that ended up with all three of us - Adam, Chris and I - in floods of tears, I knew it was time for yet another change. I have avoided cutting his hair for around four months now as I just couldn't face it. This week though, as I tried to put his hearing aids in and realised I was actually sweeping away the hair from around his ears, I knew I couldn't avoid it forever.
I thought it might be easier to cut his hair manually, with scissors, as at least he wouldn't have the buzzing to cope with from the clippers and I could (in principle at least) trim the back one day, the sides another and move on slowly. It really didn't matter if the hair was neat or styled, just so long as it was shorter and didn't look too much like a hedge. So I ordered some proper haircutting scissors from Amazon and watched a few tutorial videos on YouTube to get the basic idea on how to cut a boys hair (the child models used sat impossibly still and patient, this made me laugh!)
I then tried to think of everything that could possibly help and came up with the following:
- two diffusers in the room with doTERRA Serenity and Balance oils in them for calm in the atmosphere.
- a spray bottle with more Serenity and Balance so that with every spray, Adam was having calming oils soaking into his skin.
- sole possession of the remote control
Timmy Time, YouTube, Night Garden, his choice entirely - whatever worked to distract himself
- Sitting strapped into his wheelchair
The straps help me as I only have to contend with his moving head and flailing arms but it also helps him because his wheelchair contains and soothes him, it's a 'safe place' for him.
- Finally, dressing Adam in his wetsuit.
Yes, you read that right - his wetsuit - and if I do say so myself it was my most brilliant idea. You see, the wetsuit is tight and has a collar that comes halfway up Adam's neck so there's no possibility of getting stray hairs under his clothes where they can tickle his skin, causing annoying and distressing itching. In addition, the tightness of the suit gives Adam a form of deep pressure for sensory calming during a difficult experience. It was one of my stranger but ultimately more brilliant ideas.
Yesterday afternoon, I trimmed the length at the back of Adam's neck...then left him alone. Yesterday evening, I trimmed round his ears...and again left him alone. This morning, I decided I go in for the rest, so diffusers, wetsuit. wheelchair, tv and I was off.
There were difficult moments, and as per usual, I have some injuries (I wouldn't expect anything less) but overall, it worked. Adam's hair is trimmed, it's mostly neat (I'm not a trained expert so there's a few visible lines but I can live with that and it will grow out) but most importantly, we both survived. At one point, he had even managed to become absorbed enough into his TV show that he was actually giggling! We won't mention the points when he was bruising me, the giggling was a huge step. Even Chris looked at me in shock and deepest respect when he heard that - we've never, ever had laughter during haircuts before.
Will it last forever? Who knows. If he lets me, I'll certainly try again but I can honestly say it was the best haircut we've had in years and there were no tears. I call that a success.