Cash'an

Cash'an, 10, masters the skills he needs to get his hair cut. (Grace Clark / March 21, 2014)

It’s easy to take the day-to-day routines with children for granted: playing with friends, taking a simple stroll in the mall or sitting in the hair salon.

When you have a child with autism, limited by social skills or sensory filters needed to tolerate crowds and noises, the smallest moments are big successes. Recently, my son, Cash’an, 10, needed a haircut. The challenge was not just getting the haircut, but sitting in a chair that moves, allowing a cape to be draped over him, tolerating the sound of a hair clipper and the feeling of it against his head, watching his hair fall to the floor, as well as keeping his head still enough, or shifting it as needed, for the 25 to 30 minutes it took to get it done. 

For a typical child, it’s just a matter of listening to the hair stylist's directions. Cash’an had to learn all the steps it takes to get his hair cut, then store the routine of this process in his memory, step-by-step, so he could do it. That’s how he and many autistic children learn.

I can remember  when I cut his hair while he was sleeping.  The haircut was always kind of crooked, but at least it was neat. Later, at a school he attended for autistic and other special needs children, the staff helped him tolerate getting his hair cut by desensitizing him to parts of the process: sitting still in a chair, someone touching his head, the noise of the clippers.

His school therapists started by letting me cut Cash’an’s hair at school and then later trained a barber at a hair salon. The first barber tried, but eventually didn’t quite have the patience (you just keep trying until you find one who does). Eventually, around age 5, Cash’an could sit the in barber’s chair without running in and out of it or bouncing on it. More recently, he started allowing the cape to be draped over him. Add to that success, he has added his ability to let different stylists cut his hair.

Cash’an’s growth in this area was especially evident to me a few days ago, when he sat in a chair, cape and all, calmly, quietly and even with a smile sometimes. Watching him get his hair cut with barely any prompts from me to sit still, gave me an indescribable sense of accomplishment. I had flashbacks of the little toddler who just couldn’t do it. I thought about all the tiny steps he and I took to get him there. I remembered how his stepdad, Maurice, not so long ago, literally held Cash’an’s head with his hands as the barber worked, so our son could better learn what to do.  I thought about the patience and care his current stylists take to make sure Cash’an is comfortable in their chairs; how they adjust the clippers on a quiet setting; and how they talk calmly with my son and commend him when he’s doing well. He made it look so effortless during his last haircut. All I could do was smile, and snap a picture like the proud mommy I am. 

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