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Making haircuts easy for kids with autism

April 22, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Some parents of children with autism say getting their child a haircut is such a traumatic experience that they often just cut their kid's hair in their sleep. But it doesn't have to be that way. A new haircutting guide gives parents the tools they need to help guide their children through the experience.

He's smiling and having fun. Who would know that 4-year-old Alexander Gonzales usually can't stand having his hair cut? His mom says other stylists would send him home because they said he was unruly. They didn't understand he was a child with autism.

"They say, 'Oh, you can't parent your child,'" said Heidi Gonzales, Alexander's mother. "It's not we can't control our children, they just require extra help. It's not that he's bad."

The memories bring Heidi to tears. And she's not alone. Jennifer and Brian Maston describe how their 2-year-old son, Wally, reacts to scissors and buzzing clippers.

"Screaming, yelling, crying, trying to get out of the chair, not wanting to get near the chair, trying to run out of the store," said Jennifer Maston.

At the Snip-its Haircuts for Kids salon in El Segundo, all stylists are trained to work with kids with autism. They understand some kids are very sensitive about their ears.

"It's basically reading the child. Each child is different. Some have more sensory issues than others," said Snip-its owner Derek Rigaud. "It really comes down to reading the child and talking to the parent."

Experts at the salon collaborated with Austism Speaks to create a haircutting training guide for stylists, parents and caregivers. It breaks down step-by-step how to approach the experience, from entering the salon to using tools.

"With clippers, what we try to do is introduce the clippers to the children first, let them touch it, show them that it doesn't hurt," said Rigaud.

"I think it helps give people an idea of what to do, what to prepare for when going in there. When we were reading the book, I realized step-by-step is the most fabulous way to do it," said Jennifer Maston.

"Even for somebody who doesn't have autism, the tips are great," said Heidi Gonzales.

The organization is also working on a handbook for visits to the dentist.

And there's still time to be part of, or sponsor someone, in the Walk Now for Autism Speaks Los Angeles event Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. You can register there as early as 8 a.m.