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With Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnoses on the rise, more and more parents are learning how to navigate life with their autistic child— or being diagnosed with autism themselves after years of feeling isolated or misunderstood. While the autism spectrum (as the name implies) covers a wide variety of symptoms and presentations, it’s safe to say that a large number of people on the autism spectrum have difficulty with sensory overload especially combing hair. Things that may not bother neurotypical people on a tactile or aural level are unbearable for a large number of adults and children on the autism spectrum.

Of course, washing, brushing, and styling one’s hair is an incredibly tactile experience— but it’s easy for neurotypical people to forget just how tactile it is. So whether you’re a mom on the autism spectrum, or you have a child with an autism spectrum disorder who hates having their hair brushed or styled, here are some simple things to keep in mind in order to make it a better experience for everyone.

Prepare The Scalp For Stimulation

If the feeling of brushing or combing is less of a tactile surprise to the scalp, then it should be easier for someone on the autism spectrum who suffers from sensory overload to handle. Thoroughly scratch and massage the scalp before beginning, gently at first, until the scalp is more used to the sensations. Then, brush, comb, or shampoo relatively gently. If there’s a tough tangle while brushing or combing longer hair, be sure to hold the hair an inch or two away from the tangle before trying to comb it out. This allows you to tug on the hair without tugging on the scalp.

Only Use Gentle Hair Elastics And Other Accessories

Ponytail holders that are too tight give a familiar feeling of a shrinking scalp, with occasional tugs of pain that surprise the wearer when turning her head suddenly, or stretching her neck. This kind of surprise tugging and pain can cause fear, anger, or panic in someone on the autism spectrum. In order to avoid these sudden sensory jolts, only use loose, fabric-covered “scrunchies” and other ouchless hair ties and ponytail holders. And even if you use an ouchless elastic, be sure that you haven’t secured it too tightly on the head.

And if you’re doing someone else’s hair, be sure to ask that person how they feel about ponytails in the first place. The tips of hair occasionally brushing the back of the neck can be distracting or uncomfortable for some; in those cases, use a headband instead.