For autistic children who struggle with sensory issues, having their hair brushed may be extremely challenging, leading to angry outbursts and meltdowns. Below, we list some techniques that you can use to make hair brushing a more enjoyable experience for your child with autism.
Why Is Brushing Hair a Challenge for a Child With Autism?
Many children with autism have a condition known as sensory processing disorder. This condition can make personal care tasks, including brushing and styling their hair, very difficult.
What is sensory processing disorder?
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a type of neurological disorder that prevents the brain and nervous system from correctly integrating sensory input from the environment. There are two types of sensory processing issues: under-sensitivity and oversensitivity.
Some children with SPD are under-sensitive (hyposensitive). They show little or no reaction to sensations like heat, cold, and pain and often seek more sensory stimulation. Other children are oversensitive (hypersensitive) to the information they receive through their senses, causing them to avoid these sensations. For a hypersensitive child with sensory processing disorder, loud noises, bright lights, and touch can feel overwhelming.
Most children with autism spectrum disorder experience a mix of the two sensory issues. They are hyposensitive to certain sensations and hypersensitive to others.
What senses are affected?
Sensory processing disorder can affect one or more senses that may cause your child to struggle with having their hair brushed.
Many children with sensory issues have very sensitive scalps and don’t like to have their heads touched by brushes or combs. Tactile sensitivity is the most common reason for problems with hair care in autistic children.
The vestibular system controls the body’s sense of balance and motion. Some children don’t like having their heads tilted backward or forward when you brush their hair. It can make them feel uncomfortable, unsteady, and scared.
Some autistic children are extremely sensitive to the sound of clippers or water in a shower.
Your child may react to the smell of hair products, which makes the hair brushing experience unpleasant.
Here are some tips on how to make hair brushing less stressful and slowly integrate it into your child's daily routine.
Tips for Brushing an Autistic Child’s Hair
- Determine the cause of your child’s aversion to hair brushing. Once you understand what your child’s main sensory issues are, you will be able to eliminate the causes of stress.
- Accept that your child’s resistance to hair brushing doesn’t mean they’re being difficult. There might be a real sensory issue that is causing them pain or discomfort.
- Give your child more control, for example, allow them to choose hair products and let them brush and style their own hair.
- Don’t expect your child to sit still while you brush and style their hair. Let them play with a fidget, stress ball, or watch TV as a distraction.
- Let your child look at the mirror while you’re brushing their hair to give them a greater sense of control.
- Choose a low-maintenance hairstyle for your child that will require less brushing.
- Children with a sensory processing disorder depend on a reliable routine. Try to brush your child’s hair at the same time each day. It's usually a good idea to do this after physical activity later in the day as children are often more sensitive in the morning.
- Make a visual schedule to break down hair brushing into smaller steps. This will also help your child understand what is expected from them.
- Use a visual timer to let your child know how long brushing their hair will take.
- Many autistic children are sensitive to gentle touch. Make sure to place your hand firmly at the top of your child’s head and brush small sections of the hair at a time. Hold a strip of hair above any tangles so that your child doesn’t feel the tugging as you pull the tangle loose.
- Massage your child’s scalp before you start brushing their hair. This can help decrease sensitivity.
- If your child doesn't like having their hair brushed, you may try switching to a brush designed for children with sensory issues. The hairbrush should have soft bristles with rounded heads to make the experience more comfortable. Let your child choose a brush that feels good.
- Use a good-quality hair detangling product to reduce discomfort.
Keep on reading to find out what are the best brushes and hair detanglers for children with autism.
Brushes for Children With Autism
This professional detangling brush with memory flex technology can be used for all hair types. It eliminates tangles and knots on both wet and dry hair and minimizes breakage.
Tanglefix is perfect for brushing and detangling straight, wavy, and curly hair. This brush is lightweight and features soft bristles and easy-grip sides for better control.
Knot Genie lets you easily brush and detangle your child’s hair. Its cloud-shaped top will fit your palm perfectly whether you’re right or left handed to make the brushing process more comfortable.
Hair Detanglers for Children With Autism
Johnson's mild detangling spray instantly unlocks knots and tangles, making hair brushing and styling easier. The product can be used on wet or dry hair. It is hypoallergenic and contains no parabens, phthalates, sulfates, or synthetic colors.
SoCozy detangler will soften your child's hair in a matter of seconds, making it easy to brush. It is suitable for all hair types and will leave your child’s hair soft and shiny. This detangler contains keratin, soy protein, and kiwi extract to moisturize and protect the hair. It has no parabens, sulfates, phthalates, dyes, or allergens.
The Mane ‘n Tail detangler is formulated with natural herbal extracts to help nourish and strengthen your child’s hair. It’s safe and gentle for all hair types.