• James Gordon

What to expect during a haircut if you are an Autistic guy: A Guide

Updated: Apr 2

Getting a haircut was always a difficult experience when I was younger.

I would be unable to sit still, my body aching to self-regulate.

But I didn’t know and couldn’t explain why. I had no autism diagnosis then.

I didn’t even know what being autistic was.

So I was told off by the people cutting my hair. They thought I was just an ordinary neurotypical child acting out, doing it on purpose.

I didn’t understand danger of the scissors until one time I got a small cut by someone accidentally. Only then did I learn that there was a good reason why I had to keep still when getting a haircut.

After that, I would sometimes flinch and pull away from the hairdresser, which was also disruptive and just as dangerous. I had to figure out what was happening to me and why, so I started by identifying the individual things that triggered something in me. What made me so anxious? Social Anxiety before going into the shop. Sitting in the barber’s chair so high up. Being bundled in a sheet of cloth that trapped hair clippings between my neck and clothing. This made me itch and even more unable to sit still. The loud atmosphere of the hairdressers shop. The sounds of the scissors and the louder sound/vibration of clippers. The strange odour or perfume of the hairdresser. The harsh smell of chemicals in the atmosphere. Having to tune out the music playing in the background. Having to try to reply to the hairdresser’s attempts at social communication in small talk. All of these things were combining in attacking my senses with unfamiliar input. I needed to be more prepared and to expect these things. One thing that helped me was to arrive early and to have a short walk around the street before I went in. If I experienced the feeling of butterflies in my stomach or other signs of anxiety, I learned that taking some deep breathes really helped me to focus and to calm down. Once the haircut began I needed to try to keep still and also to tilt my head in a certain direction when the hairdresser said so. Sometimes a hairdresser would just reach out and pull or push my head into the position they wanted. I almost jumped out of the chair the first time this happened. I had to find ways to occupy my mind. To switch off the feelings in my body and to concentrate on thinking of other things. I suppose this is similar to meditating. I found that if I concentrated enough on a memory I had or a problem I needed to figure out, then I could tune out most of what was happening to my body. Sometimes I would concentrate on what was happening to my hair and become engrossed in how it looked as the hair cut progressed. Nowadays I ask if it is okay to put on my earbuds and listen to music of my own. This helps me to block out much of the unwanted and unfamiliar sounds of things going on around me. If I can, I telephone and book an appointment. This cuts down on waiting time, so that I am less nervous. I ask for an appointment at a quiet time of day, so that there is less noise and less people. Think of a style and length of hair that you want before you go, so that you can make this clear to the hairdresser.

If you have trouble relaxing and keeping still, then you could take a sensory object with you that you can hold in your hand. This could be something unobtrusive but would satisfy the need to self-regulate. What will happen during the haircut? 1. If you have made an appointment you will start by going in and telling the person at the front desk your name and appointment details.

2. You can also tell the hairdresser what type of haircut style and length you want them to do. 3. They will usually start by washing your hair, as it will be much easier to cut when it is clean and wet. 4. You will then sit in a raised chair wearing a cape over your clothes to prevent hair from sticking to them. 5. The hairstylist will start by using a scissors to cut off the longer parts and get a general shape. 6. They will ask you to move your head up and down, left and right, so that they can get to different parts of your hair. 7. They may use a clipper to trim the small hairs at the back of your neck and sideburns. They may also use clippers if it is required in the hairstyle that you have asked for. You may want to watch a youtube video of clippers beforehand, so the noise and vibration do not come as a shock. 8. After the hair is cut, the hair will need to be dried with a hairdryer which can also be quite loud. 9. At the end of the hair cut you will be shown the hair in a mirror so that you can see what the stylist has done. It is customary to say thank you for their work.

10. It is then time for you to get up from the chair and to pay for your hair cut at the cash desk. 11. You can then pick up any of your belongings like a jacket or bag and leave.





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