Today the barber, tomorrow- the moon!
This video offers advice for hairstylists to help give children with autism less traumatising haircuts. I really wish it had been produced four years ago. Getting Khalid’s hair cut used to be as terrible for the stylist as it was for him, and he’d cry so hard he would vomit and/or soil himself. Khalid would end up with an obviously crooked haircut, the barber would end up a shaky, anxious mess, and HF and I would be almost equally plastered in snot, tears, vomit and hair.
So what changed? Alhamdulillah, the older Khalid grew the more we could use reasoning to help him, but we also had a few other really helpful strategies that this video didn’t include, and that’s why I am writing this.
So, here are some of the things that made a significant difference in getting Khalid’s hair cut with less stress for everyone.
We went to the barber more often, and it wasn’t for his haircuts. When HF went for a beard trim, we started sending Khalid along with him, and we made sure there were reinforcers involved. Chips, gummy bears, using Baba’s iPhone… we wanted Khalid to be in the barbershop without being in a state of terrible anxiety and fear. Over time, he was able to enjoy being there, where previously he would freak out simply being in a salon, even if he wasn’t the one getting a haircut at all.
We brought a hairstylist home. This was an amazing turning point for Khalid, even before we starting sending him to the barbershop. A lady with scissors, a comb, and an hour and a half to spare came over, sat next to Khalid at the dining table and let him look at her tools. Khalid combed my hair. We played with plastic (TOY!) scissors and both Khalid and Iman “cut” my hair too. Then, at the dining table and with no real rush, the hairdresser took a few little snips here and a few little snips there with lots of small breaks and Khalid’s favorite cartoons on the laptop. That was the easiest haircut we ever had, and it gave Khalid his first experience with a non-aversive haircutting.
We used some good old fashioned ABA strategies!
We used a reinforcement schedule so that after every X-seconds of motion-free sitting (while his hair was cut) Khalid would get the next chip/tic-tact/reward. We counted down (not up!) so that Khalid would know exactly when the snipping would stop. We started from five, and gradually built up to counting down from ten if he figited, the count was reset. Once we got to zero, we’d stop, clean off the hair from his face and neck and arms, and he would have a break and a treat. A few seconds later, we’d start another countdown.
As it became easier for Khalid, we started counting more slowly. The next step was to start counting up instead of down- we’d start from one and see how far Khalid could go before asking us to stop. By the time we reached the counting-up point, Khalid was given the option of saying “Stop please,” when he had enough.
We used D.R.I.– differential reinforcement of an incompatible behaviour- we filled Khalid’s hands with the iPhone (which required two tiny hands to play) so that he could not use his hands to push the scissors or comb away. I also held the iPhone at a level that was higher than he would have held it in his lap, that way he had to keep his chin up in order to play and not duck away from the scissors. If the stylist wanted his chin down, then I held the phone down in his lap so that he couldn’t lean back to push the scissors away from the back of his neck. If Khalid took his hands off the iPhone, I took the iPhone back.
We used D.R.O.– differential reinforcement of other behaviour, so that if Khalid was angry and irritated by the hair falling on to his skin and clothes, he could use the barber’s little brush to clean it up himself instead of yelling or slapping at his arms and clothes. We also told him that instead of crying, he could ask for a break, and that we would then grant one to him.
Alhamdulillah, Khalid had a haircut just a month ago, and it was actually the first time the barber was able to use the electric trimmer instead of the time-consuming scissors. Khalid was terrified of the trimmer when he was younger- I don’t know whether it was the noise or the vibration, but it put him into a state of panic and we avoided using it for years. The last time though, when the barber asked if he could use a trimmer, I asked Khalid’s permission first.
“Khalid, the barber wants to know if he can use this on your hair.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a trimmer. It’s like a tiny hair-cutting robot. You like robots?”
“Want to turn it on?”
Khalid turned the trimmer on and giggled at the funny feeling in his hands. Then it was the barber’s turn, and although he wasn’t as comfortable with it as he would have been with scissors, Khalid sat stoically through his tiny robot haircut and more than earned the icy-lolly that was waiting for him at the end of it.
Alhamdulillah, Khalid has made an amazing amount of progress in the past two years and it has been such a blessing. Sometimes I feel like I can’t wait to see where the next two years takes us- today the barber, tomorrow- the moon. 🙂