Many children with Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism experience hair brushing as pure pain and torture. There are several things as a pediatric occupational therapist I have found to work very well with my clients:
1) The best time to work on hair is after a lot of physical activity ideally later in the day. Children tend to be more sensitive in the morning. The physical activity helps to normalize sensation. Even just having your child jump up and down 10 times or a quick game of tug a war with a towel can help. Massaging the scalp may help as well.
3) Have your child practice on you ( I know – pay backs right!). Help your child to learn how to work out tangles from the bottom up and to hold the hair near the scalp so that the hair is not pulling and causing pain. Make sure with every stroke the brush is pulled completely off of your head (many children tend to keep the brush close and create more tangles by looping the hair). You will be able to give your child feedback this way and they do not have to feel the pain while they are learning the coordination of brushing and getting out tangles.
4) Have your child practice the same technique on themselves in front of a mirror.
5) Gently help your child finish up and if she has long hair, braid the hair so it will not tangle during sleep.
Mary Kostka is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist specializing in Sensory Processing Disorder at her private practice, ‘Ohana Occupational Therapy, LLC, in Wenatchee and Leavenworth Washington.