In one of my “girl groups” for females with ASD, we have been discussing and practicing and sharing tips about hair. They know bad hair when they see it, as evidenced by their reactions to this photo, but they share that they simply can’t achieve it. I liken it to my dancing. I know what I’d like to look like and I know it’s as simple as moving my arms and legs differently, but I just don’t have it. In many ways, maintaining healthy, let alone stylish, hair for girls with ASD is even more challenging than replacing my two left feet. To that end, here are some tips for consideration. As always, please share your thoughts, tips and successes.
1. Stimulate the scalp prior to brushing, washing, combing, etc. by massaging or scratching your head. This prepares the tactile receptors on your head for the upcoming sensory input, hopefully rending the input from the brush or comb less offensive.
2. Get the right cut. Yeah, I know, like it’s that simple. It is well-documented how challenging hair cuts are for individuals with ASD. My clients, especially my younger clients, have benefited greatly from the “fun” salons that offer video games, television, and movies to distract. They schedule themselves at the beginning or the start of the day, with a preference for the start of the day when the chemicals and other odors have not fermented over the course of the day. More generally, though, my comment relates to getting a cut that is as easy to maintain as needed. Short hair requires man trips to the salon, but washes and styles easily. Long hair requires less salon maintenance but more at-home efforts. Clearly, it’s a Catch-22.
3. Consider a hair style that suits your fine-motor abilities. Many girls simplify their days by “pulling up” their hair. Little do we realize that putting hair into a ponytail or some other clip is an extremely difficult. You gather hair, hold the hair, prepare the hair tie/clip while continuing to hold the hair, place the clip/wrap the tie, and adjust. Consider a head band that can be slid over the forehead onto the hair.
3. Avoid wet head. I will always remember a high school classmate telling my friend: “No one comes to school with wet hair.” My friend had broken this rule. The downfall with wet head is that you appear to NOT have tried to do your hair, which, by extension, means that you don’t care about how you look. That, by extension, means that most girls above the age of 12 will hesitate before be-friending you.
4. The blow dryer, the bullhorn. Very few of my female clients can withstand the sound from a hairdryer, let alone the heat. I recommend wasting a bit of electricity by having a blow dryer run during the day. The blow dryer becomes background noise and easier to tolerate.
5. Use condition or detangler, especially with long hair!
6. Experiment with different brushes and combs. There is a whole aisle devoted to hair care for a reason — we all like different textures on our head, but NTs can cope with ill-pleasing sensory information whereas those with ASD cannot.
7. At a very minimum, wash and brush at least every other day. Over time, maybe as long as it takes for the mullet to come into style, desensitization will occur. Clean, tamed hair goes a long way.