A cut above the rest

Another excerpt from my E-book coming out a few weeks before Christmas on Amazon………

Kai had a haircut the other day and because we live 3 doors down from the hair salon he takes himself there and back, so I never get to see the finished product until he is ready to come out of his room after dealing with the Asperger’s element of coping with “change”, usually a few hours after the cut.

I’ll never forget the first haircut we ever had, probably pretty normal for most kids, lots of screaming, crying, wriggling, kicking and pure terror…followed by a lollipop and a quick case of amnesia 5 minutes later.
Not so much with kids on the spectrum. Kai is now 13 and whilst there’s not a lot of kicking and screaming these days, there is still a fair amount of trauma, sometimes tears and a “depression” that follows directly after the cut.

There are some things about Aspergers that get better with age and can be managed more effectively as their own self awareness/control develops. Even some of the hardest traits to disguise can be managed with the right tools. Kai has occasional bouts of “Stimming” which according to Wikki is short for self-stimulating behavior, which is repetitive behavior such as hand-flapping, rocking, twirling, head-banging, jumping, spinning objects, lining up objects, and repeating the same phrase. This behavior is common in people with autism spectrum disorders and helps to calm them. If it is not harmful to the person, it can be best to let it continue. In children with an autism spectrum disorder who do it, it continues whether or not they have an audience. It is similar to a nervous tic in neurotypical people, such as doodling or foot tapping. It can serve as a relative indicator of how stressed the person with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome is feeling.

With age Kai has managed to control his hands or noises (most of the time) and when it has been really out of control we have relied on a number of things like squeezie balls and elastic bands to keep his hands otherwise employed, especially during class time.

There are a number of events that would otherwise be everyday occurrences for kids, but for children on the spectrum, just don’t get any easier. Haircuts have always been tough and we went through the phases where they were just so traumatic he didn’t have a haircut for two years straight which as it happened, came at a convenient time, when long hair was in. But like all fashion, the fad changed and he was the only kid who looked like he’d grown up naked, running barefoot through a banana plantation and named Oongeroo Moonbeam Mocassin Pussyfish the third. It was finally time. We looked around at multiple hairdressers and finally settled on one. He went in, had the cut, walked out the door and cried for about six hours, bashing his head against the wall, kicking himself in the head, crawling under the bed and repeatedly saying he should never have cut his hair and that this day was the worst day of his life. He refused to go out for three days and wore a beanie for over a week. Finally the brutal summer heat got the better of him and he came out of his shell and I knew I had to find a better way of dealing with something that is supposed to happen multiple times a year.

One of the most important elements of dealing with the “change” is reminding them that a few days later the world is “normal” again and things feel “the same”, the familiarity Spergy kids love the most has inevitably returned. So just like you make a point of praising a child when they are good, reinforcing the positive behavior so they repeat it, you do the same when our kids have come through a change “unscathed”. It’s kind of like reminding them that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Because here’s the truth: change is inevitable, therefore if IT keeps happening then THAT is the “new normal”.

So the first thing we do is find multiple pictures of the cut he wants, making sure the hairdresser will be able to see exactly what he expects his hair to look like. I also explain to him that everyone’s hair is different and that it will look a little different on him. I know it sounds wordy to people on the outside who don’t have kids on the spectrum but to those with kids on it, you know how description and understanding is what binds their expectations and experiences together.

Then we find a salon nearby and we go in and talk to a few different hairdressers, showing them the picture and hearing what they have to say about it. Forming a relationship with someone he trusts and “knows” helps him return with confidence and ease (again, familiarity the new normal). Before I take Kai in, I tend to go in a day before for a reccy and let them know what they are dealing with, who they might recommend who is good with kids, great with cuts and able to go slowly and communicate, that way I have narrowed down the selection of people to deal with. After he picks the person he likes and trusts the most, he gets the cut and I coach him to communicate the length and style he is happy with versus going within and saying nothing. No, means no and stop means stop now. Easy for most of us to speak up, not always easy for these kids to say how they feel. There is nothing worse than a hairdresser who goes all the way because once it’s off it can’t be undone. In this case, slow and steady definitely wins this race.

After the cut he is always freaked out, always thinks it’s too short, doesn’t like the way it feels, is upset by the change, even when he likes it, it still feels “funny” to him and I remind him that this will pass. I make sure there is nowhere we need to go afterwards ensuring he has the time and space to deal with it in his own way. I make him his favorite meal, create as much familiarity as possible and remind him how just like every other time he’s had his hair cut, in a day or two, he will like his hair again. A few days later when he has returned to “normal” life and isn’t even thinking about his hair I once again remind him of this, anchoring him in the comfort and acceptance he feels as “time heals all wounds”.

We use the same hairdresser over and over again and every time it gets easier. I use the same language; comforting, familiar, encouraging and every time he remembers that “it gets better” because it does.

It gets better and that is something none of us should forget. If you have any questions you would like answered or subjects covered in this E book then please fill in the comments box below and I will do my best to include.

Thank You

4 Responses to A cut above the rest
  1. ajayrochester
    November 26, 2012 | 2:41 pm

    @nmrees83 I use the term “better” in a relative sense of course…baby steps on the spectrum feel like giant leaps xx

  2. Mick_182
    November 26, 2012 | 3:40 pm

    Hi Ajay. I have only come across this website today..  think it’s great! But just reading your bio then, the bit about your adoptive mother. I kinda dont know what im trying to say, but i am adopted 2, and have never had any contact with my birthmother. She had me when she was 16, a victim of rape. I am 26 and thats all ive ever wanted, is to know her. Also i am a male and have had ongoing issues with Anorexia fromm about the age of 15. I’m not sure if you’l see this but keep up the good work. Cheers, Mick.

  3. Kristy
    November 27, 2012 | 8:37 am

    Hi Ajay, also just came across your blog today. My brother has autism, not aspergers type, but I can really relate to this… for us the DENTIST was and is like your stories of the Hairdresser. Heaps of mums & families with kids with different types of autism would relate to your blog too. My brother has turned 30 this year and lives independently with just weekly family assistance thanks to my mum and her amazing style of management and nurturing techniques ! Would love to read more about your style .. thanks to great mums ! .. K

  4. KateReinke
    November 27, 2012 | 12:49 pm

    Hi Ajay, I found your blog through your recent post about The Biggest Loser that was linked in The Age online. I am so glad I followed the link. I am overweight – I never lost the baby weight from my son who is now 4 years old. Speaking of my gorgeous boy, we have been seeing a speech therapist & she has asked us to take him to a paediatrician as she believes he is on the spectrum. Your description of Kai getting his haircut was very familiar, although my son is only upset during the actual cut, he doesn’t seem to mind the end result. I have started cutting his hair myself to save the anxiety of the visit to the hairdresser. 
    I am also adopted, and I was lucky to be reunited with my natural mum, sister & brother happily. I am so sorry for your loss. It is bad enough to experience the loss of our first families, and for society in general to believe that we have no real right to grieve that loss, after all, we were taken in by people who wanted a baby, what more could we want? 
    Anyway, just wanted to say hi and let you know that you are amazing.

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