For moms, a day at the salon is a sensory delight: a warm water wash with a scalp massage, the lovely scent of hair products, and someone clipping and styling our tired locks as we rest in a chair. But for children with sensory processing disorder or special needs, the overstimulation of the senses from the sights, sounds, scents, and touch of the salon experience can be a stressful and difficult situation. Finding a trusted hairstylist can be tricky. Chris and Pam Worden from Cookie Cutters Haircuts for Kids in Colorado Springs equip their stylists with specialized training to work with all kids, including those on the autism spectrum. They shared their top 10 tips for salon visits:
1. Talk to your child
It is completely normal to have anxiety about a haircut. If age appropriate, start by talking to your child about whether they feel ready for a haircut and if they have any fears or anxieties about it. Some children are more ready and can go straight into a salon for a haircut, others need more time and preparation to feel comfortable.
2. Do your research
Once you know how your child is feeling, do your research. Go online, look around, speak to your neighbors, and analyze the different salon options in your area. Choosing the right salon experience for your child’s needs is crucial.
3. Call in advance
Once you have narrowed down a small selection of salons, call them. Speak with a hairstylist and ask them what the experience is like. Ask if he or she has worked with or is trained to work with children who have special needs or sensory issues, and what care they take when working with them. This interaction will help you narrow down your list.
4. Inquire about a social story
Once you have selected the salon, see if they have a social story. A social story is a learning tool to view or read that introduces how a situation will play out step by step. It shows children what they will experience, and has pictures of what they will see.
5. Visit the salon before scheduling
Along with a social story, it can be beneficial to bring your child in for a visit before an appointment is made. Cookie Cutters allows parents to visit the salon ahead of time so their child can see, hear, and learn about the Cookie Cutters experience before any appointment is booked.
6. Select an “off” time
Consider making an appointment early in the morning or later in the evening when fewer people are in the salon—the likelihood of distractions, noises, and other factors that can trigger sensory issues is smaller.
7. Plan your visit in advance
Once you have your appointment set, plan the haircut experience in advance with your child and the hairstylist who will be performing the haircut. Pick the haircut and style to show your child what to expect, and go over specifics, such as what chair or in which area of the salon the child is most comfortable.
8. Have your child engage with the hairstylist
Once at the appointment, encourage your child to interact with the hairstylist. Cookie Cutters found that children who are involved with the experience (picking the style, talking about their day, and providing feedback on whether something hurts or feels uncomfortable) are more likely to enjoy their time in the salon.
9. Bring toys, videos, or games
For those children who do not wish to or cannot engage with the hairstylist, be sure to have toys or other sensory items to occupy them. Cookie Cutters has video games and shows at every station in the salon for that reason.
10. Get your hair done at the same time
This is often overlooked but when a child sees their parent doing something, they are more likely to see the experience as fun, and will be more relaxed. As a children’s salon, many people don’t think Cookie Cutters offers adult haircuts, but they do. No matter where you go, consider asking for a haircut at the same time as your child to help calm their nerves. Just be sure to be in the chair right next to them.