Today I gave my son a haircut. And by normal standards, it was uneventful. And the fact that it was uneventful means by Autism standards – IT WAS AMAZING!
My son is 15 years old and has always had sensory issues and nervous system challenges with haircuts. I’ve spent a huge amount of money on different tools over the years. I’ve spent a huge amount of mental energy on figuring out how to make this a better experience for all involved. Items have been broken, meltdowns have occurred, injuries have resulted, blood has been spilled, adult beverages have been consumed and along the way spirits have been broken.
Every attempt at a haircut resulted in added knowledge: No cape – ever, long sleeve shirt is better than no shirt, rewards are good but not foolproof, breaks are awesome but will result in funky cuts, razor not scissors, combs are the devil, counting down helps A LOT, ear plugs are helpful, no talking or words of encouragement, planning is key and home-based cuts are better than going to a salon or shop.
This task became so hard for my son that I literally took a 3 year break from even attempting a haircut.
What was they key to having such a non-event today? Persistence, understanding his behaviors as a window to his brain and focusing on bringing the nervous system into balance – both his and mine.
An unbalanced nervous system does not tolerate stress. And balancing the nervous system is a long game. That long game includes removing physical and chemical stressors, healing the gut so that foods are not creating stress within the body and supporting the body to function as it was designed. Once the stressors have been reduced, THEN you can work on learning new skills for dealing with stress and increasing “stress tolerance”. I know that sounds linear but I assure you IT’S NOT. Which is where your nervous system comes into play.
As caretakers, we also get stuck in our stress modes and then learn to FEAR things that were horrible for us in the past. And then we anticipate that it’s going to be bad and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The less concerned I was about HOW he would react to the haircut, the more balanced I remained. Our kids use us as their emotional anchor. If we are worried/anxious/nervous, they pick up on that and will join you right there.
I recently presented at AutismOne in Chicago on Caretaker Stress and how to incorporate simple and doable things within your day which will help you manage your stress load and help keep your nervous system in balance. The basic rule – you can take care of yourself AND your child at the same time. They need you around and they want to see you healthy and happy.
Will there still be crappy days? You bet. No one ever promised that this life would only consist of good days. But you can deepen and broaden your resilience to crappy days. And believe it or not, you can actually start to ENJOY life again and move from surviving to thriving.