I have always hated having my hair cut. I have no memories of ever going to have it cut without having to be talked in to it, and spending the whole time wishing it was over. This is far from uncommon with autistic people, and there are a few good reasons for that. I thought I would talk a little bit about what makes getting my hair cut so hard for me – as always bear in mind these will not apply to ever autistic person, and there might be things you find hard that I have not thought of.
The sensory impact: I have talked a lot on this blog about sensory overload and the impact it can have on me and other autistic people, and I realise more and more as I get older quite how much of an impact it has on me day to day. When you go for a hair cut you have someone touching your head and hair. They might be doing this for ten minutes or forty minutes, but in my case at least it’s much more contact than I would ever normally have with a stranger. I do not like to be touched by strangers, nor do a lot of other autistic people, so having my head pushed and pulled, my hair touched, pulled and so on is much more touch than I am used to.
This is why I never have my hair washed before I have it cut – I do that at home before I go out. There is more than enough touching and moving of my head going on without washing it too!
Having to sit there and let someone mess about with your head and hair can be very stressful, and easily lead to sensory overload. On its own the touching is more than enough to bring on an overload, but that is not the only sensory input that comes with a hair cut. There is background noise and often lots of it: talking, hair-dryers, phones going off, and people coming in and out the whole time. More often than not when you are sat having your hair cut this will be coming at you from three sides at once. So when you think about being sat in a busy, noisy environment with someone touching you, and pulling your head this way and that it’s no wonder that, for me at least, hair cuts lead to overload.
Talking: I have been quite lucky the last few times I have gone to get my hair cut as no-one has tried to talk directly to me too much. But it is not uncommon for a hairdresser or barber to start making small talk. “Where have you been on holiday?” is a classic. I understand why they try this small talk; a lot of people do enjoy it, and it can be seen as friendly and therefore encourage people to come back. Add to that the fact that the person cutting your hair works with the same people every day, and might have been working in the same room doing the same task for hours before you come along – it’s not that I do not understand why they might want a chat it’s just that I hate small talk as the best of times. As I have already said having my hair cut can be an overwhelming experience anyway, so the last thing I want to do in the middle of it is start talking. But as I am sure you all know it’s so hard to get out of small talk without being seen as rude. I have never quite understood this; if I were to say that I did not want to talk that would be seen as rude, but chatting on at someone who is basically a captive audience for twenty minutes about inane nonsense when it is clear they do not want to talk is not viewed as rude? Perhaps it’s just me, but that seems a bit strange. Sadly even if no-one is talking to you there still tends to be a lot of talking going on between other people. A lot of people do see going to get their hair cut as a chance for a good chat so even on days when I do not have to try and make small talk I tend to find that there are others all around me making small talk that I can not help but hear, and which only adds to the sensory overload.
Change: We all know change can be hard for autistic people, and the whole point of a hair cut is to change something about yourself. Even if it’s only getting it trimmed back down to its normal length there is still going to be a change in how you look. It might not be a change that we think about very often, but for most of us it’s one of the few things that we do where we actively change something about ourselves. The worry about this change might not even be something we are aware of feeling. For me I do not worry about what I will look like after my hair cut, but I do have a hard time asking for what I want. I know I want to change something about my hair, but I never know quite how to say it “Like it is now but shorter” is about as good as it gets for me, but they always seem to need to know more. As it’s not something I care about or spend any time thinking about I never know what to say when asked for more detail (I forget between hair cuts what I asked for, or what was done). This can mean that although I am not worried about the idea of a change on the outside, when I am confronted very clearly about what I want to change and how, I often find I have no clue and basically just want to keep my hair as close as I can to the way it was when I went in.
Not being able to fade in to the background: This one is a bit more vague than the rest, and at least two of the other points can be tied in with it. When someone is cutting your hair, working on your head, you can not just fade in to the background, and not be noticed. People will keep touching you, they will keep talking to you, you will be asked what you want, and shown how it looks at the end, and asked to say something about it. However quiet you stay you will still have to deal with all those things. Often when I become overloaded I will just stay quiet and kind of fade out, trying to stay in the background and not worry too much about what is going on. But when the focus of an event, or room is on me I can not do that. Even for something as small as a hair cut that power is taken away leaving me to deal with the full impact of what is going on without the option to bow out of it. When I feel I am at the point where I just want to close my eyes, not talk, and not have anyone talk to me there is still someone standing right behind me pulling at my hair, talking to me, and asking me to pass judgement on the haircut.
So overall as you can tell hair cuts are not fun for me, and as I said at the start I know that this is true for quite a lot of autistic people. I keep my hair longer now, and while that means my hair cuts can take longer they are also a lot less frequent. But even when my hair was short, and a cut did not take long at all I still hated them. I know that I need them, and I am willing to have them (although I do put them off for as long as I can) but that does not mean I have to like them.
How do you feel about hair cuts? Is there anything you dislike about them that I have not put in this blog?
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