Two Bits

Last Sunday night, I gathered the equipment, let my wife know the time was at hand, and herded a shirtless Clay into the downstairs bathroom. The dog whimpered in the hallway as I locked the door.

Yep. It was time for Clay’s monthly haircut.

My son’s unruly crop of dark brown hair often looks like it was cut by a one-armed blind man riding in a bumper car at the carnival. No surprise since that is exactly how the experience feels when we attempt the monthly hair fest.

We’ve been through many scenarios. When Clay was younger, and a little more prone to sit still, we would brave the local barbershop. While his behind would stay planted in the chair, his head would bob and weave like a prize fighter. I’m sure some of the barbers took extra long with the person they were working on when it was clear that Clay’s turn was next, hoping they didn’t draw that number. We finally gave that up after a few years when one unlucky soul managed to cut his own finger during the mayhem.

Next up, we tried the hairdresser that both my wife and I had been using for years. At that point, we couldn’t even get Clay into the chair, so this high-energy man agreed to cut his hair in the studio bathroom. That worked for maybe a year before we just didn’t have the heart or energy to put on our private circus act for the foil-headed ladies. So, armed with some tips from that hairdresser, some cheap clippers, a pair of scissors and the steely determination of Joan of Arc, we have been tag teaming Clay once a month for the past few years.

After some poorly thought-out initial efforts, we have settled into a steady routine. We block him in the downstairs bathroom. (It’s roomier than the one upstairs, but still limits his space for wandering.) Then we alternate between my wife and the scissors and me and the clippers until we have tamed the wild jungle on his head.

Clay’s part in this is to keep moving. No sitting in a chair for the little guy. He is in motion, a caged hamster darting from one corner to another. If we move toward his head, he leans away. If we try to cut his right side, he turns to the left. Inevitably, he winds up with bald patches on the side of his head, crooked bangs, lopsided sideburns and two sweaty, exhausted parents. But as long as he still has both ears and we can count 30 fingers among the three of us, we consider it a victory.

I’ve been wondering why haircuts seem to be such a trauma for kids with autism (if you’ve ever been to an event with lots of these guys, you know what I’m talking about), so we pinned high-speed Henry down after this last one with the keyboard he uses to communicate:

“Why don’t you like haircuts?” my wife typed.

“Sucks so much,” he typed back. “So stimmy and so awkward.”

“Does it hurt?”


“In what way?”

“Too hurting … so funny feeling … so distracting.”

The clippers seem to be a particular nemesis.

“What bothers you about the clippers?” we asked. “The noise, the vibration?”

“So many things are bad.”

Not much positive to run with there.

Of course, now that he is approaching 16 in a few months, it doesn’t end with a haircut. Once a week, Clay gets a shave, an operation in the shower that takes a steady hand and lightning-fast reflexes combined with the balance of an acrobat to stay upright on the wet floor. I have none of those skills. But that is what makes it so much fun.


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  1. #1 by Chris on May 17, 2011 - 10:05 am

    my nearly 7 year old had given me the same problems with the haircut at times. I figured out a way to do it without a huge fuss. 1. i ask him if he wants a haircut (at first he says no, but within minutes he says yes) 2. i let him hold the clippers and turn them on so he can feel the vibration and get used to it (we use clippers with a #2 on it) 3. i do it right in the tub, so cleanup is mighty easier. i dont know if this will help you, but its worth a shot (especially the part about letting him hold the clippers. my son was very apprehensive about the noise and vibration, but now he is fine with it. we still have some sillyness, and bobbing about, but not nearly as much as before)

  2. #2 by Chris on May 17, 2011 - 10:13 am

    oh, and sometimes i let my son do the first swipe with the clippers, just so he can feel comfortable…each haircut is a different experience…at times he sits like a statue, other times its like trying to put a t-shirt on an octopus

    • #3 by Larry Blumenthal on May 17, 2011 - 10:46 am

      Thanks for the advice, Chris. We’ve tried some of that, and it helps a bit. The tough part is just keeping him still, and we haven’t found an answer to that one, yet.

  3. #4 by Kim on May 17, 2011 - 1:27 pm

    If only you could do it while he was sleeping…haha. This post brought back fond memories of my aunt cutting my hair and how much I would squirm and hate it (also hair brushing when you are a little girl with long, tangly hair is quite the fiasco.) You & Roe are such a great team, as always. I can just picture the shenanigans. Tell Clay I think he looks handsome with his hair cut! 🙂

  4. #5 by autismmommytherapist on May 17, 2011 - 2:00 pm

    Haircuts are the ninth circle of hell. We still have occasional issues, but I swear, after each appt., I am drenched in sweat whether our son handled it well or not. Sorry it still sucks so much after so many years. Loved your last line…

  5. #6 by Larry Blumenthal on May 17, 2011 - 10:48 pm

    Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts and suggestions. Much appreciated. The adventure continues.

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