This article is inspired by a video that has been circulating the internet lately called ‘7 Year Old Boy Fights His Mom at the Barbershop’. I included it here for your reference, but the video shows a little boy being held down (literally) by four barbers while getting his hair cut. The boy is squirming and screaming uncontrollably and saying, “I CAN’T TAKE IT!” His mom is telling him to calm down and that is doesn’t hurt.
Before I get too far, let me be clear and acknowledge that these people were NOT being ‘bad’ people. The four barbers were stepping up for this woman (possibly a single-mom) and handling the boy for her as the men in his life and part of her community and support system.
I am confident of that because…
I went through the EXACT same thing with my son for many years. His father and I would have to hold him still (like human straight jackets) every time he needed a haircut.
Initially we thought it was just new to him (Afterall, lots of kids are scared for their first few haircuts…right?). After a while, we started to wait longer in between haircuts because we ALL dreaded the event (including the barbers). But skipping the haircuts all together and not grooming him was not an option. I thought it was the noise and vibration of the clippers, so we tried having the barber ONLY use scissors. But it didn’t make much of a difference.
We tried everything. Bribes, distractions, candy, ice cream, TV, toys…you name it! Nothing worked. We took him to different barbers and tried shops that were just for kids with colorful deco, small chairs, and video games. Still craziness. I started cutting his hair myself at home. He handled it a little better, but still a daunting task for me (and a nightmare for him).
I think I had witnessed another mom go through this at some point, but her son couldn’t have been more than…5 years old maybe. Didn’t give it a second thought. My son was already to the age where…it just didn’t make any sense. There was no logical explanation for why he ‘behaved’ this way.
We went through this all the way up to around 10 years old. Eventually he was able to get haircuts without making a big fuss.
It wasn’t until he was 14 that I had him evaluated and found out he was on the autism spectrum. My reason for taking him in had NOTHING to do with the haircut issues (although I did mention it on evaluation questionnaire). My concerns were more about things like his extreme introversion, whispering (instead of speaking up), monotone voice, lack of social connections, no visible sign of emotions, refusal to look at me when I talked to him, and difficulties getting him to understand the dynamics of a parent/child relationship.
While learning about autism and all the things that could possibly come along with that, doc eventually explained…SENSORY PROCESSING.
All those haircut fiascos began to replay in my head.
Doc said we were actually TORTURING him by forcing him to sit through that. The sound AND the vibration of the clippers WERE actually hurting him. And the snipping noise from the scissors may have been hurting him too!
When my son finally learned to speak up loud enough for people to hear him (which I now know is part of his ‘masking’). I acknowledged that he had been doing a lot better with it, and he said: “Well it’s not because I’m being my normal self, it’s because I got tired of you yelling at me for it.” Then he asked if it was okay to tell me WHY he doesn’t like to talk loudly (of course, I encouraged him). He said:
“When I talk loud enough for other people to hear me, it sounds like someone else is standing next to me YELLING in my ear.”
– Blew my mind! And further confirmed what doc was saying.
You wanna talk about a parent feeling bad? Words can’t really describe it. I mean…I didn’t cry or beat myself up for it. BUT all those times just kept rerunning in my head, only now I was seeing things through a whole new lens. I was mortified. I was watching in retrospect *mouth wide open* just thinking…OMG…(it all just looked so different now). His level of panic, terror, and resistance was now validated and completely justified. I finally understood the angry (almost hateful) way he would look at me afterwards.
I didn’t beat myself up about it (like I’m sure some of you probably think I should have) because I DIDN’T KNOW!
I didn’t know ANYTHING about autism, sensory processing, hypersensitivity; none of it. I didn’t even have any direct -or- indirect exposure to it (aside from completely non-verbal / extreme cases that I simply wouldn’t have associated my son’s behavior with).
I also didn’t beat myself up because, while I may have overlooked that sign, and my entire family felt my son just needed strong arm discipline to set him straight…I never fully gave in to that because I felt in my heart that there was something more to it. I knew he was a good kid. Something had to be ‘wrong’. I kept searching for answers. I kept talking to people. Until ONE DAY… someone asked me if I’d ever heard of Asperger’s Syndrome. *angels singing*
That said…I don’t really think we can look at this video and automatically deem this child a ‘bad kid’. Nor can we condemn this mom (or her support system) for doing what they thought needed to be done. I shared the video a few places with my own commentary. And the reactions were clearly divided.
- Neurotypicals (I’m guessing, with no direct exposure to what’s called mild autism) mostly were in awe at the child’s behavior thinking he needed some hard discipline for being unruly and disrespectful to his mother.
- In my Aspie peer support groups, many people pointed the finger at mom saying it was child abuse and she shouldn’t be forcing him to get a haircut if he doesn’t want it. *angry faces*
- In the Autism PARENTING support groups, every-single-last-one of them with *teary faces* said something compassionate. Reminiscing about their own experiences, tips for mom, prayers for the boy.
I found this quite interesting. Everyone viewed it from their own perspective. Aspies from the boy’s position, NT’s with a total lack of awareness (not their fault), and parents of children on the spectrum with an understanding of what it was like on both ends.
Now… I am NOT by any means trying to say that this boy is autistic.
What I am saying is that this video reminded me of my own experience and made think about how many kids we have out there being chalked up and treated as ‘bad’ kids when they really might have a legitimate problem. It’s obvious that we need to better educate our communities somehow, about signs and red flags that indicate there could be something there.
Looking back, I want to say, when a child is reacting to something uncontrollably and at that level AND its not age appropriate or understandable…we NEED to dig deeper for an underlying cause. I mean…sure, its common for kids to cry and resist for the first few haircuts. They are usually very young, and eventually get used to it. But when it continues for an overly extended period of time and they are SEVEN and have acted like this for every haircut over the past few YEARS?? It’s time to look under the surface.
But how would the average parent know that? Unless you’ve been exposed to it before, what would tell a parent that this isn’t just bad behavior?
In some communities, a diagnosis of any kind comes with a stigma attached and no one would ever naturally consider the possibility that it could be anything besides behavioral issues.
And say for example…I was in the barber shop that day and I saw this happening and recognized my son in that boy. How would I approach that woman to encourage her to have him professionally evaluated (without offending her)?? Very slim chance that would go over well.
On the other hand, this haircut scenario does seem to be a common telltale sign that is often just viewed as bad behavior and overlooked (based on what I hear in the support groups I am a part of). Which makes me wonder if maybe barber education would be an impactful way to spread awareness (on what to do when they see this). Just like some non-clinical counselors are trained to recognize certain unmistakable signs that require them to refer client to a psychiatrist.
In this particular case (if barbers were trained on it), at least ONE of the barbers would have recognized the scenario and possibly saved that boy years of torment by simply explaining to mom that he’d seen this before (in training) and it could be a sign of legitimate sensory processing issues. Which probably would trigger mom to consider evaluation and to maybe think twice before forcing her child to sit through that again in the meantime.
It’s just a thought. But as I’m typing, I do feel there might be a barber shop awareness campaign just over the horizon. :-))
Growing undiagnosed myself, and then going through this struggle with my own son…I know I can’t save the world. But if I can help prevent just ONE child/person from having to experience a lifetime of confusion and self-blame simply because no one took a closer look… Then I have fulfilled my mission.
We can ALL help by keeping the dialogue open, talking about these things, and sharing information. You’re reading this article now. Whoever shared it with you is doing their part. Let’s keep it going.
Thank you for taking the time out read about this! Please take a moment to engage here and let me know your thoughts.
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