How To Help Sensory and Autistic Kids Cope With Haircuts


Most toddlers getting their first haircut are known to fidget and squirm around.   Some cry.  But they grow up, and out, of their fear and distress.

If your child has sensory sensitivities or sensory modulation issues, haircuts stay difficult-to-torturous for a much longer time!

Confusion, fear of strangers, and stubbornness don’t elicit the same level of intense avoidance, aversion, and agitation over and over.   Even washing and combing their hair can be stressful for them.  There are kids who have a “man bun” or a super-long pony tail to avoid the trip to the stylist or barber.

Parents are often giving advice that falls flat, or a total “side-eye”.  For family members and teachers alike, it can seem as if this is simply a case of bad behavior and too-lenient parenting.  It isn’t usually either one.

A good occupational therapist  can help.

A lot.

 I am regularly hired as a consultant OT to help a child over 4 handle ADL issues like bathing, grooming, and dressing.  The majority of these children are not on the autism spectrum.  Some are.  These kids often attend mainstream educational programs, and participate in after-school activities with neurotypical kids.  Almost all of my consultation clients have sensory processing issues, and this was either not diagnosed, or it was addressed with sessions at a sensory gym.  

A word of advice: while I am fully trained in all clinic-type treatments, I have yet to see gym activities fully fix ADL issues.  This is not a surprise; it is almost impossible to address the complex sensory-motor skills in ADLs without actually WORKING ON THEM!  That would be like working on self-esteem and mindfulness, but never learning how to write a resume’ or respond to job interview questions, then wondering why you don’t get an offer or a repeat interview!


Here are some guidelines that will help all parents and therapist make progress with kids who hate haircuts:

  • You need to speak with them about it.  Ignoring and hoping this problem will change isn’t going to work.  Be positive, but let them know that you have their back, understand how hard this is, and that you are going to do everything you can to make them feel better about it.  This goes pretty far with a lot of kids who have felt that either no one believes them, or that no one CAN help them.
  • Look at your equipment.  Kids can go with you to pick out combs and brushes they think they could handle.  Don’t ignore the baby items, as they are much more gentle on sensitive heads.
  • Older kids can be excited about choosing hair products.  Be generous and do not become angry if they use-then-reject products.  Use them yourself if possible, or donate them if they are essentially new.  But give your child the chance to experiment.
  • Remember the general modulation and desensitization techniques their first OT taught you?  Resurrect them, because a calmer child has a better chance of handling almost anything new.
  • You may need to start with your child watching you comb or brush your own hair.   Tear off a page from the exposure therapy playbook, and give them the chance to curl up near you, and even comb or brush your hair.  

For more ideas, you can contact me for a general consultation to review your current program and equipment by contacting me through my website Tranquil Babies, or you can watch for my upcoming book on ADLs and ASD on  

Need ideas about how to start OR finish potty training?

I wrote a book for you!


front cover



After working with hundreds of sensory and autistic kids, I decided that there had to be a more useful book out there.  New therapists needed ideas, and parents felt confused and discouraged.

I totally understand this!

Toilet training is complicated.  It is not a behavioral skill.  It is a complex sensory-motor skill with behavioral components.

What’s in the book for you?

  • Learn why autism creates so many problems in training.  When you know the “why”, you have a better chance of figuring out “how”.
  • Understand that using the toilet doesn’t being OR end with elimination.  Kids need to learn all the steps, and learn them well enough for you to leave the bathroom and know that they can manage.  I go through every step.  Every one, including wiping.
  • Kids that are months or years away from formal training can still build their skills with Collaborative Diapering and Targeted Pre-Training.  The most involved kids may always need a toileting schedule.  Here is how you get them to grow their skills today.
  • Good equipment can do half of the training job for you (Shush; don’t tell anyone that good OTs do this all the time!)  but you need to know what works.  I put in a resource list for you.
  • Readiness is complex, but also simple.  Like the supreme court justice (kinda) said about porn, you know it when you see it.   But only if you know what it looks like in a child with autism.  My readiness checklist clarifies what true readiness looks like.  You might find out that your kid or client is ready now.  Really.

Where can you grab a copy?  Find the printable version on Your Therapy Source  , and buy the e-book OR the paperback on Amazon  today!!

boy dad rolls

By Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist, licensed massage therapist, and certified CBT-i sleep coach in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment. It has been a joy to help people of all ages improve their ability to grow and thrive! Occupational therapists are focused on enhancing a client's functioning in everyday life. We are practical healthcare providers, interested in teaching, adapting actions and environments, and building a client's useful skills for living their best life, regardless of their challenges. I am the author of five books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training the Autistic Child". I lecture on many subjects, including sleep, trauma, and development. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve YOUR goals!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: