One of the hardest experiences we have with Quentin is taking him for a haircut. I know I am not alone with this issue; I am aware that for many children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, this can be a difficult experience. For us, it pure torture. The act of getting Quentin’s haircut represents one of the single-most difficulties we have with raising a child with autism. He starts crying the second we drive up to the hair salon. Getting him into the chair and sitting still is nearly impossible. Our hairdresser, who is amazingly tolerant of Quentin, is not able to cut his hair with a scissors anymore, for fear that she hurts him (or herself… or one of us). We literally must pin him down (it often takes two of us) while she gives him a buzz-cut. He writhes and screams as she gives him a crew-cut as fast as she can. Afterwards, Quentin recovers amazingly quick with a lollipop. Our hairdresser immediately retreats for a smoke outside. I always feel like I need a tranquilizer shot, a glass of wine, and a trophy… but of course I get none of those.
Needless to say, I’m looking for a solution. And guess what? “There’s an app for that!”
Introducing Toca Boca Hair Salon. It’s an ipod and ipad app that allows users to be the hairstylist for a number of different customers. This is not an app designed specifically for kids with autism spectrum disorders or even sensory processing issues; it’s simply intended as creative play for any child. However, this is the kind of app that helps Quentin a lot. It’s helping him to acclimate to the very idea of getting a haircut!
Here’s how it works: You open the app to a store front, and when you click on the door, you get a choice of hairy customers to work with. After your selection is made, your new customer is seated in front of you with a cape. Your tools are lined up at the bottom of the screen, accessible by swiping. There are a ton of fascinating hair products and tools to work with. The first screen has scissors, a comb, and a magical gel that grows the hair back. The second screen contains a hair dryer, a camera (for taking pictures, natch! They end up in the camera roll of your device), and Quentin’s biggest fear: the electric clippers. This is followed by hair color sprays, a shampoo/ rinse station, and then hair accessories.
What I especially like about all of Toca Boca’s apps is that there is usually a section for parents which is accessible on the first screen. This page describes not only how to play, but also how to help your child play. For example, I didn’t realize that the gel in the first screen of tools was actually G.R.O. (lotion which makes the hair grow back) until I read this. This section tells parents to encourage the use of G.R.O. to correct mistakes and to initiate discussions about how this does not exist in reality. As an adament co-viewer of media with my children, I appreciate a little guidance from an app.
When Quentin first experienced Toca Hair Salon, I had to show him how to use the tools. I also had to show him how to swipe at the screen to access more items. Of course, when we got to the electric clippers, it made him pause. The app does an especially good job at sound effects, and he immediately knew what this item was because of the buzzing. I said, “Buzz, buzz – on your hair!” and gently rubbed his head. He grinned with familiarity, and repeated “buzz.” Then he proceeded to shaved off all the hair of his cartoon customer.
Since introducing Quentin to this app, I have noticed that it has become a favorite of his. Quentin tends to bounce around apps, opening and closing different ones on his ipad (or the itouch) as he chooses, but this one can captivate him for quite some time. I might be in the kitchen washing dishes when I hear that distinctive hair clipper buzz coming from the living room. He likes both the hair dryer and hair clippers the best, perhaps because these tools make the kinds of sounds that are most scary to a child with sensory issues.
Here is a short clip of Quentin playing Hair Salon on an itouch:
While there are many lists of apps out there made especially for children with autism, there are also great ones for kids like Quentin that are actually intended for a wider audience, such as this. Toca Hair Salon is a nice little app that not only allows Quentin to experiment with hair dressing tools, but also lets him acclimate to both the sounds and visual results of a haircut. Quentin has not had a haircut since exploring this app, so I am very curious to see what our next visit will be like! If you have a child with sensory issues and dreads the hairdresser, this app is $1.99 well spent!