Saturday, May 09, 2015

Haircut Day

Today, it’s a Saturday in May, and I am spending most of it grading. Deadlines, you know. But I needed a break, so I thought I would write about last Saturday. As weekend days go, it also had a singular, very focused purpose: getting my son a haircut.

Now, you need to understand that my son is eleven and has mild autism and has been growing his hair long because he wants it that way. And my husband and I have been walking a tricky tightrope of give-and-take, since hubby isn’t super into the boy having his hair long (though he is coming around somewhat), and I feel very strongly that I want him to be able to have power of this aspect of his appearance and his life.

First things first, though: we are all about the hygiene. Both my husband and I work with children. Other people’s children. Sometimes smelly children. I have leaned over many a pre-teen head to give guidance at a computer and had to hold back on the retch I’ve felt welling up. I have a super-sensitive olfactory gift, you see. Another aspect of hygiene is appearance. Neither my husband nor I can handle an unkempt appearance. We just can’t. Don’t try to fix us; we’re fine.

So we have set up rules about bathing and washing hair daily, brushing hair several times a day, using deodorant, brushing (and flossing and rinsing) teeth, and so forth. It’s hard enough to have autism. Being the smelly, dirty, weird kid is especially hard to bounce back from. And we start middle school in a few months. People with Asperger’s and autism are especially prone to a condition called “not giving a damn about personal hygiene.” So we’re vigilant, to say the least.

And so we find ourselves on a lovely Saturday with a boy who doesn’t want anyone coming near his hair, and me promising we won’t do anything drastic. And then it occurred to me: this isn’t just about being eleven and wanting to exert some control over a matter of one’s personal style. Getting a haircut is a rather sensory experience on a lot of levels. A person you don’t know very well touching your head. Loudly buzzing clippers right next to your ears. Strange smells and foreign noises while you sit on a chair that spins and goes up and down under someone else’s control.

On the drive to my hair dresser’s salon, I asked Cameron if there was more than one reason he was not happy about getting his hair cut. I told him that I understood that he wants to be old enough to decide about his own hair, which he agreed was part of what upset him. I also asked him if maybe all the sensory experiences I just described were upsetting to him.

Yes. Also, the last time his Dad took him for a haircut, the lady cut off more than even my husband told her to. So not only does the boy have no control, even his father can’t protect him from too extreme a cut.

We’ve done most of Cameron’s haircuts at home, with clippers. That is no longer an option or something we will consider. Scissors only. And neither hubby nor I are qualified to wield those.

I brought Cameron to my own hairdresser, who has been doing my hair since before he was born, I think, and whom he knows and at least respects and likes. I had already texted her in detail about what was up. She was really great. She explained to him, reassured him, and was really gentle and calming the entire time.

He still silently wept through the entire ordeal, but that wasn’t her fault. 

All we did was have her trim some dead ends and do a small amount of layering to the top and sides, so it would fall more neatly when he combs or brushes it. She complimented the length he had grown it, and she told him how much she likes how the back gets curly. I couldn’t have asked for a better performance by her, emotionally and professionally. His hair does look really nice. Most people can’t even tell it was cut, just that it looks neater.

But the build-up, the ride there, the talking him down during and after, and the therapeutic discussions and choices made for the remainder of the day were hard work and they were very draining. I negotiated my way through getting him to actually eat something when we went for lunch on the way home. I talked him into having some of my fries, and by the time we got to the front of the line to order, had even wrangled him into getting a chicken sandwich. I let him get whatever he wanted to drink (no beer, wine, or artificial sweeteners, though).

When we got home, he was free to do whatever he wanted. I am pretty sure he played with Lego in his room and rode his scooter outside for a bit. To be honest, I was so wiped from trying to maintain emotional control, that I don’t completely remember the rest of the day. I know I took him for sushi on the Friday night as a positive start to the weekend, to sort of buffer it all.

This is the kind of thing that can be really challenging about even the mildest of autism. People think your kid’s a little quirky but they expect him to be able to do everything a neurotypical kid can do, just the same way or at the same level or speed. I had a pretty busy and eventful week at work, but we had Haircut Saturday, followed soon after by Dentist Tuesday (with x-rays, a cleaning, and the news that we need to have two of his teeth pulled next week), and frankly, a lot of my life becomes a total blur on a semi-regular basis.

I just wanted to blog about this lest ye think that it all sunshine and rainbows over here in autism family land. I tend to share pictures and blog posts about the small victories, because that is what I want to remember. But a lot of our most important lessons on this journey come out of the difficult, painful days.

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