Tuesday, 1 July 2014

A Chop In Time

Mention the word "haircut" to a forum of autism parents and you'll typically hear responses like these:

Parent #1. "My kids are just fine, we started young". 
There are not many like this, and they don't mean to get your heckles up with the "we started young" bit. To them you can say "That's great, you're really lucky!", and move on.

Parent #2. "Oh they're just horrific. My child doesn't cope at all. But we gave him the iPad and it totally distracted him. Have you tried that?"
I'll leave you with your thoughts about the "horror" of that one. ;-)
Parent #3. "They used to have a really hard time and we dreaded them and had to do it ourselves for years. It took a long time but they slowly coped better and aren't too bad now."
I love this parent. I have much to learn from them!

Parent #4. "It's horrible for him and for all of us. He melts down/vomits/faints because he just can't cope, so we hold him still and do it as quickly as we can when we absolutely have to. It's just awful to see him so distressed by something we're doing to him. We're going to have to do another one soon (shudders and comforts their child who is upset just from hearing about the subject)."
Until today this was us, and I'm desperately hoping today wasn't a one-off! 

A "HC" as it has come to be known in the Bubbly household, strikes fear into all of us. Bubbly doesn't cope with the noise of clippers, the feel of hair on his skin after it's cut, a cape or other light fabric draped over him, the feel of vibration on his head, or the light touch involved in trimming near his very sensitive ears. He doesn't seem keen on the sound of scissors near his head either. We're also pretty sure he associates the word "cut" with pain- hence the acronym we use around here, and he knows that scissors can be dangerous. He also doesn't like to be still for long or restrained (of course, who would?). 

So a haircut was something we dreaded. We tried distractions, rewards, heavy work/movement/deep pressure to help his regulation, we tried social stories and videos. Nothing helped, and with this kid the idea that "he'll get used to it if you do it regularly" is laughable. The more we did it, the worse it got, to the point where the words "hair, cut, or haircut" in his earshot would cause him to whimper, cry, and run. So when we'd psyched ourselves up as much as we could, we'd give his Clonidine at bedtime, and when he was really out, Daddy would sneak in and trim off as much as he possibly could. Even this was a fraught exercise as Bubbly would still react in his sleep to the light touch and sound of the scissors. So after Daddy did the ninja thing we'd continue to psych ourselves up, and the next morning we'd try our best to prepare him (usually making him more upset), then I'd hold him on my lap with his weighted blanket for deep pressure and to stop the hair getting on him, and Daddy would clip it as quickly as possible while Bubbly screamed, shook and sobbed his way through it. Nothing would distract him, and nothing we'd say would make it easier for him. We'd be near tears ourselves sometimes. It was horrific, and Bubbly would be really upset with his dad for a couple of hours afterwards, which was just heartbreaking for him. Then, we'd have to look at his very short buzz cut and feel awful until it started to grow out because it really didn't suit him (though he loved the feel of it and would run his hands over his head all the time once he'd recovered from the trauma!).

So Bubbly hadn't had a haircut since Christmas. It's July 1 today. He'd had a reprieve after the window incident in May as his cut (that word again!) had to heal up, so his hair was really long and very thick. It actually looks nice longish, and he's letting me wash and brush it with a therabrush without drama these days, so we were talking about how just a trim with scissors would be ideal- if only he'd keep still and let us. 

Bubbly's been a lot more settled and able to concentrate with a new medication he's on, so I thought it would be worth trying some YouTube videos of kids having haircuts to prep him a little. Foolishly, I did a search in his presence, and the first one was a clip where they used clippers and it was in a hair salon. All wrong on all accounts and he ran away crying. Then I happened to mention my search for a "trim with scissors" video to some autism parent in a Facebook community, and my wonderful friend at Suburban Mamma offered to make one with her kids for us! She sent it through this morning and after I'd watched with a giant smile for my friend and her gorgeous, happy kids, I gave it to Bubbly who watched it out the corner of his eyes until the end of the first child having his hair cut. Then he whimpered and couldn't watch anymore. I thought that was enough for now and we could build up to him watching it comfortably. 

I put it out of my mind and we had an unusually great grocery run (without his harness!). When we got home I put The Little One down for a sleep and put on the new Wiggles DVD we'd bought at the shops. As it loaded I was playing with Bubbly's very long sideburns. Playing with his hair has desensitised his head a lot, and we've been talking about just trimming near his ears a lot with him. Because he's loving the song "A Sailor went to Sea (Chop/Knee)" I've been saying "Chop" instead of "cut". Well he twirled those bits of hair with his fingers, pulled on them, looked me in the eye said "Cho!"
"Really? Is that okay if I try?" 
"Cho." A little less emphatic this time, but still...
(Uncertainly) "Okay, lets give it a try."

I got the scissors, and he whimpered when he saw them and shuddered when they went near his head, so I stopped. I snipped a tiny bit of my own hair and showed him. Then I slowly snipped a little bit of his hair, and made a huge fuss of him when he kept still, even though he still shuddered a little and his hand went up. Slowly, but surely, he let me trim around and above both ears. I was so excited and told him over and over how proud I was of him and he bounced with excitement. We sent Daddy, his grandparents, my friend who made the video pictures and we kept on celebrating!

Then I sat on the lounge looking at him, and I thought "I wonder if he'll let me trim the back too". He did, and then I kept on going. We took breaks when he needed to, and I rewarded him with lolly snakes at each break. But over two and a half hours (and with some help from Google as I'd never cut hair before), we ended up with a full short hair cut, and one very, very proud little boy! He even held still for verses of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" which I sang as I trimmed the more delicate areas near his ears. I wasn't game to do the front so I left it for Daddy to style when he came to visit tonight, and what do you know, Bubbly takes the scissors off him, gives them to me, aims my hand at his head and says "Mum". 

So it looks like I'm going to have plenty of opportunity to hone my very poor hairdressing skills! I really had no idea what I was doing, but Daddy said it looks great, and that it's still better than any cut he's had before (It could've been his relief at dodging the "HC" bullet, but I'll take the compliment!). As far as I'm concerned, the huge milestone that is a calm, meltdown and tear-free haircut makes it the most beautiful hack job I've ever seen! 

SO, if you related at all to parent number four in the beginning of this post, there is hope, and now that I've blogged about it, I'm so desperately hoping this wasn't a one-off! Stay tuned!