Do you dread taking your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to the dentist? How about haircuts? For some kids on the spectrum, these simple appointments can feel like an exercise in horror. All that sensory input in a new situation can stir up strong behaviors. Your child isn’t being naughty, their reaction suggests they may be fearful or are experiencing sensory overload. In new or difficult situations, a Pre-correction can help your child deal with their fears. The idea is to get your child ready for what’s going to happen. The stronger they react, the more preparation will be needed.
A simple prompt may be enough if the situation is something smaller, but your child sometimes acts outs. For instance, transitioning from one activity to another can be hard for kids with ASD. If you are at the playground and it’s almost time to go, give your child a two-minute warning.
- Say: In two minutes, it will be time to go.
This gives them important transition time, so they can adjust to the idea. If they still react strongly, give them two prompts the next time, one at five-minutes and one at two-minutes.
- Say: In five minutes, it will be time to go.
- Then say: In two minutes, it will be time to go.
- Then say: Time’s up. It’s time to go.
For bigger challenges like a haircut, which can be sensory aversive because of the feeling or the sound of clippers, a Pre-correction can help you desensitize your child. The more you can make it fun and like a game, the better. It may take several days or several weeks to get your child ready for the haircut. That’s okay because, getting a haircut is something they will do all their life, so it’s time well invested. Here are steps you might take:
- In your home, talk about getting a haircut and how nice it is to have neat hair.
- Talk about how good it will feel for your child to have hair that doesn’t scratch their neck or fall into their eyes.
- Show your child the hair salon’s website.
- Drive by the salon while you are running errands and casually point it out to your child.
- Practice getting a haircut in your home.
- Have your child sit on a stool or booster seat at your table.
- Drape a sheet or towel over them and pretend to cut their hair, using soothing words and language like:
- Getting a haircut can be fun.
- You look like a big kid when your hair is neat.
- Look at you sitting still. That’s great.
- Visit your hairstylist and let your child watch what happens there. Allow them to get used to the noises and smells.
- If the stylist is willing, let your child climb up into the chair to test it out.
If your child struggles with any of these steps, keep practicing that step until they can master it. Always provide your child with positive praise for trying and especially when they do a great job. Reward them with something that reinforces the behavior you are shaping. This will help them associate good things with a hard task. When the time comes for the haircut appointment, your child should know exactly what will happen.
A Pre-correction can be time consuming. It is a “front-loading” investment of time. In other words, you may spend a lot of time at the beginning of the process. But as your child gets used to the haircut, the dentist, or other challenging situations, it will get much easier. In time, your child may even enjoy going to places they once couldn’t stand.
When you plan out a Pre-correction for other situations, think of breaking up the process into small bites. It’s kind like dipping your toe into the pool rather than just jumping into the cold water. Next, you put two feet into the pool, then you go down to another step, bit by bit getting used to the water.
Most often, a Pre-correction can begin with a conversation, watching a YouTube video, or reading a book about what your child will do. Keep things positive without sugar-coating what will happen. Allow your child to express their concerns and fears. Reassure them that you will be there with them. Visit the website and look at pictures or take a virtual tour. Ask if you can take a real-life tour. Talk to the people that will be helping or working with your child. The idea is to take away as many scary parts of the process as possible.
The more you use Pre-correction, the better you will get at it! Pre-corrections cut down on anxiety and meltdowns, while helping your child to fully engage in life.
Sue Claridge is an Autism Specialist, a certified Life Coach, and a mom of an adult child who worked himself off the autism spectrum. Sue can help you find your own answers to how you parent your child with ASD, while offering consultation for difficulties you face. You can receive an hour of coaching via phone or Skype for a special introductory price of $10. For more information, contact Sue at: