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Pam Dewey • June 23, 2020

Hair care is a challenge for individuals with autism and sensory processing difficulties. Combing, washing and cutting hair can feel extremely unpleasant to people who perceive their senses differently. The scent of shampoo, the feeling of the brush on their scalp or the sound of the electric hair clippers can trigger sensory overload.

As families stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic, it may be some time before your family can visit Kids’ Hair. For parents of children with sensory difficulties, maintaining your child’s hair at home may be hard. Previously, Kids’ Hair and Fraser worked together to ensure kids with sensory needs had a positive haircutting experience, so we’ve teamed up again to provide some tips to help keep your child’s hair healthy at home.


  • Some individuals prefer a bath over a shower to decrease the water raining down on them. Others might prefer a shower to minimize splashing and soaking in the water. Try both methods to see which your child prefers.
  • Try unscented shampoos and conditioners, or have your child pick out a scent.
  • Use dry shampoo to increase the time between baths or showers. Look for unscented dry shampoo or a powdered dry shampoo, if your child doesn’t like the sound or feel of an aerosol spray.
  • Give your child with protective gear goggles, a splash guard or nose plugs.
  • Washcloths are also helpful in the bath. Your child can use a washcloth to cover his or her eyes with something soft. You can soak a washcloth to wet your child’s hair, which is gentler than pouring water or tipping your child’s head back. 
  • Create a visual schedule of the bathing routine. Break down each of the steps, so your child knows what to expect.

Brushing hair

  • Use a timer to show how long the hair brushing will last.
  • Allow your child to brush his or her hair first. Giving your child some control of the task can increase their engagement and decrease their resistance.
  • When brushing, start at the bottom or ends of hair, and work your way up to the scalp. That helps with pulling and tackling tangles as quickly as possible.
  • Use a detangling spray to decrease knots and pulling. Be mindful of the scent of the spray.
  • If you run out of the detangler spray, take a conditioner with a scent your child likes and mix ¼ conditioner and ¾ water in a spray bottle. This shouldn’t be a long-term solution because of build-up, but it will work for a while.
  • Use a variety of brushes and combs like detangling brushes, wide or fine-toothed combs or various bristled brushes to find one your child prefers.

Prepare for your next haircut

  • To keep growing bangs out of your child’s eyes, push the hair to the sides and back (following natural part lines), and use hairspray or gel to keep hair pushed back. When your child gets out of the bath or shower (or if you can rewet hair), comb wet hair back away from the forehead, so it naturally stays out of eyes.
  • Read the Kids’ Hair Social Story
  • Watch videos on YouTube of people getting haircuts.
  • Practice sitting on a raised chair and putting on a “cape” (oversized backward shirt, blanket, sheet or other household materials).
  • Give a doll or stuffed animal a pretend haircut.

Before starting these hair care activities, do some deep pressure sensory activities with your child, so he or she feels calm and more receptive to the challenging sensory stimuli. Some examples of deep pressure activities are wrapping your child up in a blanket like a burrito, doing yoga poses like downward dog or crawling and rolling across pillows or couch cushions on the floor. These activities provide proprioceptive input, which can decrease sensory defensiveness. For more proprioceptive activity ideas or hair care strategies, reach out to an occupational therapist.