Sensory-friendly haircuts at Perham Schiller's House make nice hair accessible for all
With the help of Empowering Kids, Dani Leach at Schiller's House offered her first day of sensory-friendly haircuts at the Perham location on Monday, Feb. 20.
PERHAM — "People that are neurodiverse often have really unique sensory systems. Things can feel very intense or they cannot receive enough input — both of which are very dysregulating and cause feelings of being unsafe. As human beings, we want to seek safety. It's innate in our survival." This sense of being unsafe can make haircuts particularly difficult for people who are neurodiverse, explained Empowering Kids Director Tiffany Schroeer.
In order to make haircuts more accessible for neurodivergent people — those whose brains work differently due to a variety of reasons, such as autism or ADHD — Empowering Kids is working with Schiller's House to provide sensory-friendly haircuts. Dani Leach, a hairstylist at Schiller's House, provided her first day of all-ages sensory-friendly cuts at the Perham location on Monday, Feb. 20.
"My son is also autistic," Leach said, explaining how she started providing these specialized services. "Before he was diagnosed, we had to learn little tips and tricks to get his hair cut at home. Just for him to be able to sit through a full haircut was not easy … I was actually a special ed para for a little bit, so I have extra training on the sensory end of things as well, which I think really contributes to days where we're doing a little sensory haircut day."
So, what exactly makes haircuts so difficult for some neurodiverse people? As Schroeer explained, it's all about sensory input. While fluorescent lights, the sounds of clippers, the many voices, the smell of products or even the feel of a hairdryer may not bother most, they can be really overstimulating for someone with sensory sensitivities. Said overstimulation creates an unsafe sensation.
"So, when (a neurodivergent person) is trying to seek safety or communicate discomfort, (they may) do things like screaming, hitting, throwing things, running away," Schroeer explained. "Ways that individuals do not feel safe when they're getting their hair cut is that they're in a brand new place. They don't know what it looks like. They don't know what it feels like if there are other people and customers around … The terrors of getting your hair cut — if you're a neurotypical person from a neurotypical family, you may not understand that."
A neurotypical person — someone who isn't neurodiverse — may see haircuts as a simple routine. They may not even be aware of how scary the experience can be for those with a brain that functions differently from theirs, Schroeer said. She hopes providing sensory-friendly services at Schiller's House will not only raise awareness for these challenges but will also be a step toward making a more accessible world.
Sensory-friendly haircuts are different for each client. Parents of children receiving these services fill out a form with Empowering Kids (which will also later be available on their website, empoweringkidsperham.org ). This will help inform Leach about the client, their name, sensory sensitivities, talking preferences and more. That way, Leach has an idea of who the client is and what their needs are prior to the appointment.
For example, Leach books out extra time for these appointments, so clients have the time to familiarize themselves with the space. Leach could keep the TV and music off and lower the lighting for those who need low sensory input. She can also talk to those who prefer conversation or stay quiet with those who don't. She and the client can take "wiggle breaks," where they put the haircut on pause for the client to move around as much as they need. The process is individualized and collaborative for the neurodivergent person's needs.
"Some kids don't like to be touched, so (I) figure out how to work around the touch part of it," Leach further explained the process. "Even though we're only touching their head or their shoulders, some kids just don't like it. So, (I work on) getting them comfortable with me before we get in the chair, so that it's not such a big shock when we get there. (I) make sure we're using a quieter trimmer around the head, asking questions of the parents about pressure or no pressure. What bothers them? What doesn't bother them?"
Though the first day of sensory-friendly haircuts offered by Leach at Schiller's House in Perham has passed, this is something she wants to continue doing for the community. She and Empowering Kids hope to make sensory-friendly days a monthly service. Those interested in booking the service can text Leach at 218-760-5463.
Though Empowering Kids focuses on services for youth, and Schiller's House mainly offers services for men, both Leach and Schroeer emphasized that these sensory-friendly services are open to all. For more information on a variety of sensory-friendly opportunities, go to empoweringkidsperham.org .
"You shouldn't be treated different just because you're not the same as everybody else," Leach said. She believes everyone deserves the opportunity to have a good haircut. "Everybody wants to look good, and a good haircut makes you feel good."