Haircuts are really hard for Philip. So are dental cleanings, doctor’s visits, and nail trimmings. Perhaps some of us experience a little discomfort or nervousness when we have to subject ourselves to someone else touching our bodies for health and grooming issues, but we somehow manage to keep it together. For Philip, these things provoke major anxiety which results in a major meltdown with kicking, clawing, screaming, and crying. It takes more than one person to restrain him and get the job done. It produces a lot of anxiety in me that I often want to cry myself.
We have a family friend who has cut Philip’s hair for 4 years. This is because we would not dare take him to a public barber, knowing what his typical reaction is. This is how it usually goes. Someone at my parents’ house (where we often get together on Sundays with extended family) says, “Come on Philip. Time to get your hair cut!” Philip immediately runs the opposite direction and tries to hide under a blanket. I go and try to coax him out gently but to no avail. My mom comes and dangles grapes or a nectarine in front of him saying, “You can eat this after your haircut.” Philip does not budge and he is whining and won’t let go of the blanket. Finally on the verge of yelling I state, “you need to get a haircut! Your hair is too long and Uncle P is waiting for you. Let’s go NOW!” I have to grab him with all of my strength, straining my back as I pull and drag him as he actively falls to the ground, flailing, and now at a full wail. My back aches just writing about this now. I then sit on a stool holding Philip down on my lap with all my might as he struggles to free himself. One aunt holds his arms down. Another holds his face still while tears are streaming down as he cries. Uncle P works as fast as he can. Sometimes Philip falls to the ground and Uncle P follows along. He is a real good sport, always willing to do his hair despite the major production. After the hair is cut, everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief, tells Philip how great he looks, and off runs Philip with his fruit as far from us as possible.
Yesterday, was a wonderful departure from that. We were in the backyard at my Mom and Dad’s house sitting on the deck and watching the kids swim. My sister Kit had learned to give haircuts from YouTube and was trimming her son’s hair. She did a nice job. I half-jokingly asked, “Will you cut Philip’s hair?” His hair was getting so long that I was constantly brushing it out of his eyes. My sister responded, “sure.” Philip was enjoying himself in the spa, as he always has loved water. I went over to him with the letterboard and said, “Philip, your hair is getting really long and I would like to have it cut. Would that be ok with you?” Surprisingly, he pointed to “Y”. I was thinking he didn’t hear me right or accidentally pointed to the wrong choice, but I calmly went on, “Would you let Auntie Kit cut your hair?” “Y’ again! I then brought a towel over to try to get him to come out and sit on the deck but he just kept happily circling the spa, not coming out. Kit then came down to him and began talking to him very patiently and gently trying to at least get him to come out and sit at the edge of the spa. He wasn’t coming out yet, but instead of forcing him, Kit said, “whenever you are ready you can come out and I will cut your hair.” It took about 10 minutes and he brought himself out and sat at the edge. We asked him if he was ready. “Y.’ Philip started to whimper, but he did not move. I put my hands on each side of his chest to support him while Kit cut. I could feel his heart rapidly beating through his skinny frame. I knew he was doing everything in his power to not lose it and stay still. This was huge for him! Kit and I kept calmly encouraging him, “You are doing so well. I’m so proud of how still you are sitting!” At last, the haircut was over. It was the best haircut he ever had! Everyone was so proud of him and complimenting him on his do. Even Philip seemed to be smiling with pride.
A haircut. It seems like it should be no big deal, but for Philip this was a major milestone. I think certain things will always cause more stress and produce a more visceral response in him because of the way his brain and nervous system are wired. But at the same time, this incident also showed how he didn’t have to be a slave to it. He could learn self-control and self-mastery. I believe Philip’s new found communication is a big reason why. Communication gives people power to have a say and make their wishes and feelings known. This same power can extend to other areas of a person’s life, giving them power to face fears, overcome obstacles, and dream bigger than they originally thought possible. It makes me excited for Philip knowing how far he has come in just less than a year of being able to communicate, but this is really only the beginning. There’s a big future ahead with many more “haircuts” to overcome!
Philip and Auntie Kit after his haircut