Hair Washing Trauma | Autism PDD


Thanks everyone! Tonight's a hair night and I'm going to give it a go with the wash cloth and go very slowly and talk to him I might even get in (This time I'll put a bathing suit on, not my jeanes

When I picked Sam up from school on Friday, (he is in a special class with 15 students and 8 of them, including Sam, have some sort of PDD or autism related issue) Sam was in good spirits. On Friday night we talked about the night before and his melt down and I said that he could have his bath but that I would not wash his hair. He said "water helmet". This confused me. The only water helmets I know of are those helmets that people use when participating in white water rafting and the like. I asked him to say it again and he said "water helmet" I asked him who told him this and he said "teacher" He has three, (one head teacher two aides and the speech therapist) Then he said "Miss Kelly." This is his head teacher.

Do any of you know exaclty what she is talking about? I looked online and I could only find the helmets I mentioned for rafting. I'm sure there are inventions out there for kids like ours, but where to find them?

Well, we made it through the trauma, but I had to post today, I knew many of you would get a kick out of this story. My husband picked Sammy up from school yesterday and nothing was said about the upcoming bath. I said nothing. At around 4:30 I was cooking dinner and my husband was folding laundry and Sam had gone into the bathroom. He is pretty independent with the bathroom skills so we thought nothing of this. But a few minutes had passed and we hear Sam laughing. So my husband goes into the bathroom and it turns out that Sam had decided to wash his own hair. He used hand soap and got so much in his hair that he had a white paste in his brown hair. There was more soap then water.

He was so proud of himself. All we did was smile and give him a towel and let him "dry" his hair "all by myself" as he likes to say. He was simply glowing. He was so proud of himself. At bathtime he got anxious and said "NO HAIR!" I told him it was not a hair night, but that I wanted to "comb" his hair with my fingers. I did, and without his realizing it, I kept wetting my hand with the bath water. It took a while, but I got all the soap out. I reminded him several times what a big deal it was for him to do that by himself, but that next time he needed to wash his own hair in the bathtub and use hair soap, so his eyes won't burn.

We had a good laugh. It was so amazing the way he wanted to remedy his own problem by taking control of it himself. I only push things when there is no way around them. Thank you all for your help.

I certainly don't think that this issue is settled. It will come up again, but I am still wondering what he meant by "water helmet."

Thank you all again.   Bravo

Hope this helps! Marcy

Wow, I don't know what to say, I did not expect such a reply. I came to work and wanted to post this and see what there was to say and you all really helped. I'm going to try to desensitize him like suggested by everyone. I'm going to try everything.

When Sam calmed down, I told him about the swim class that his PT suggested and he said, "I hate the water on my head." He used to hate the water on his head and then he got over it and he tolerated it, but last night he freaked. It was scary.

I can't thank you all enough. He is such an overdrive, tightly wound kid and any upset sends him on the ceiling.  I will let you know what happens. My husband is not working Sunday night so I will see what we can do as a team. Maybe I can wash Pete's hair (my hubby) and let Sam watch. Thank you all. I will keep checking on this for other suggestions. 

Love to you all!!!! I can't thank you enough!

As far as awimming goes it could be different. TJ loves to play in the pool and has no problem even spraying himself with a hose-but do not turn on the shower- total meltdown.

Good luck this can be rough.


HI My ds has a sensory issue with haircuts and hair wash, it wasnt the clippers that scared him but it physically hurt when the hair trimmings fell on him. we used to have to double team him and traumatise him every time (HORRIBLE) when he could eventually tell us what it was we put the towell around him and his head so we could only see his hair (like a tent) and since then no probs. the hair wash thing we have him in the bath and gently de sensetise with water over his BODY, then with a wash cloth start to wet his hair, gently, all the time talking softly, when it comes to the big rinse i use a big jug (in case of major tantrums and it gets done quicker!!) and he has a dry wash cloth over his eyes and head tilted back, (Look up to mummy, keep looking, nearly there etc)and i 'push 'the water off his hair as it goes on so that it doesnt go on his face. after a few times, same routine etc it isnt a problem. good luck!!Sorry I only skimmed over the other replies, but I wanted to quickly
relate/reply. Briana developed an absolute phobia of shampooing her
hair around the age of two, and we've tried EVERYTHING EVERYTHING
EVERYTHING!!!! The only thing that ~sometimes~ works is when we can
get her to lie back in the water "like a mermaid" (LOL, maybe something
else for your son) and her hair spreads out in the water. She still freaks,
because the water is near her ears, but if we praise her tons and tons, and
hold our arms under her, this sometimes works. Otherwise, I just make
John do her shampoos, because he's stronger than me and her screaming
doesn't affect him so much. She screams and carries on horrifically, like
she's fighting for her life, but as soon as it's over, she's fine again. But
like you said, there is absolutely NO "reasoning" with her before/during/
after the ordeal. Some of the things we've tried were the shampoo visor
(leaked, and hard to reach all hair with it on), letting her shampoo a doll's
hair, her brother's hair, letting her pour the water-cup herself, buying a
shower-attachment hose and letting her do it herself, lots of "fun" and
praise, and promises of security, extreme gentleness, and firmness...@@
Holding a washcloth over her face (not mouth), looking up at fun things
on the ceiling, getting in the tub with her, ??? Sorry you're dealing with
this, too! =o(

I think the GOGGLES idea is a great one! Her main thing is the water
getting in her eyes. We're going to try that!! My son is 6 now and he's never liked getting water on his head.  Since the age of two, probably, he has had meltdowns just like your child, every single time we tried to wash his hair.  It's only recently that we've been able to do it,  all because of his swimming/diving mask - that's what he has to wear every time!

Last night I put Sam in the tub and told him that it was a hair night. We've cut them down to only twice a week because how much he hates it. Well last night I mentioned it and he stood right up and tried to run for it. He's never done this before. I literally had to jump in the tub, fully clothed, socks, jeans, shirt and all to keep him from hurting himself, he was jumping around and trying and get away from me. I forced him to have his hair washed because he had his first day of a new program in a new school that specializes in PDD and Autism and I wanted him clean.  

I felt terrible. When we got out we were both soaked and I wrapped him in a big beach towel and we sat on the floor and he cried and cried. This is something that is non-negotiable. He has to have his hair washed. He's never reacted this way before. I told him we could have his hair shaved off if he didn't want to have his hair washed anymore, but he is afraid of clippers. He was supposed to start a swim class and now he doesn't want to go.

What do I do? He needs to have his hair washed. Is there a way to get through this? I'm worried that hair washing is going to traumatize him. Should I get his psychologist involved? Do any of you have this problem? Do you have any suggestions?  -- Kim C   


They also have those visors you wear to block the water from falling on a toddler's face.

We usually start rinsing our 3 yr old's hair from the tip of the hair to the top of the head.  It is very gradual and soothing if they are in a bath.  Maybe use a cup and pour water over his shoulders a few times, then over the neck, then over the nap of the neck, and just move your way up his head.  Then tell him (or sing to him) to tilt his head back as you slowly pour or drizzle water.  A cup will allow you more control as to where the water will go.

Another option is to give him a mirror to hold so he can watch you wash and rinse his hair.  You can provide him w/ what you will do next.

And yet another option is to let him help you wash his hair.  Like the previous poster said, let him pick out the special sponge and the special hair shampoo.

Okay, I have one more suggestion.  If he likes water and you have a tub, fill the tub to his ears (provided he doesn't have any ear issues) and let him lay on his back in the tub after you wash is hair.  you can tell him he is swimming just like Nemo then use a sponge or cup to rinse the rest of his hair.



Someone makes a helmet like thing that goes over the head,it's kinda like a visor so water and soap does not get on face,I saw it at( Toys are us) a long time ago, so I'm not sure if they still make them. I think the sink thing is also a good idea. Also maybe he can pick out what kind of shampoo he wants to use. You might want to try to bribe him. If he washes his hair he gets to do something he likes, or gets a special treat.Look at the library for books about washing hair that are written for children. Phobias are so so hard to deal with. I do think you should talk with your psychologist about this if it contiunes. My son hated to have hair washed when he was younger, we sang songs to get his mind off of what we were doing and he uses two wash cloths over his forehead so nothing gets in his eyes, but he still will try to get out of it if we would let him. Good Luck 

If worse comes to worse, and he likes his hair being brushed.... you can put a bit of talc powder in his hair and brush well.  The talc with absorb the oils.

I did this for a bit when Kieran was really really adverse to hairwashing.  So I would wash hair once a wk and do the talc once a wk.

There are other no water hair cleaning products out there.

Not to say to give up on hairwashing, just to supplement it till things are easier on all of you.


Hang in there.  My daughter had a bath phobia for about 2 years.  We had a purple bucket that was large enough to sit on the bathroom floor, fill with water, and have her sit in it.  This lasted until she was too tall to sit in it.  But it sure made things alot easier.  I couldn't pour water over her head, just use a wash cloth and sponge bathe her. 

My son , who never had issues with having a bath before suddenly developed a  fear of them around January . We had the same knock down , drag out fights to get him in the bath.We talked with his teachers and OT and they developed a story book for him to use at school .We used it both at school and at home and we are now back to his loving having a bath again.I have no idea what caused his sudden fear of baths, but thank goodness we've gotten past it.

 Also something we have used that helps tremendously with rinsing his hair is a large funnel , like the ones used for putting oil in a car.Instead of the water rushing out like it does if you use a cup, it comes out in a slow , steady stream and you can dirrect it in any dirrection that you need to  . My kids have always seemed to enjoy this and my son especially likes to play with the funnel when we aren't using it to rinse his hair as a bath toy.

I hope this helps !

Hi Kim...

Do you know what he is afriad of?? or why he hates it? Our son hated tub time and then I figured out at one point, he was afraid that he was going to go down the drain (once I figured that one out, I purchased a big plastic plug to cover the hole) and then I discovered, he hated to have water run over his ears (I is always something -lol). Anyway...I now hold a wash cloth over each ear while rinsing his hair (we do one side at a time now). I have tried to make bath time really fun (toys, wash cloth puppets, soap with toys in it) but the fun can only begin AFTER we wash the hair (we started out with a FIRST, THEN board....first, wash hair...then, play with toys). Now he knows the drill. (don't get me wrong, he still gets fussy but it is not a complete nightmare). You may also want to try a social story where you talk about taking a bath and what can be expected.  I liked the other poster's ideas of maybe trying the sink and equating bath time with nemo swimming (what kid wouldn't love that).

Best of Luck.
I just happened to see this post. This is bathtime on most nights for us. We only do baths about once a week because they'd gotten so bad. I just saw something in a Southpaw catalog (they carry items regarding sensory integration) - a No rinse product line. It's bath wash, shampoo, etc that doesn't require any water or rinsing. I haven't tried it yet, as Jake's been doing fairly well tolerating them lately. But if we go through another rough patch (he tends to cycle through good times and bad), I'll definately be ordering them. They have a website, I think. Just google Southpaw Enterprises. Good luck!