By Whitnie Trost
My name is Whitnie Trost and I am a mother of 6 kids. My youngest, Christopher experiences Down syndrome and Autism. Anyone who knows Christopher, knows that he is an amazing and funny young man but he struggles with many sensory processing issues, especially around the face area. When he was just a little guy, we could still brush his teeth and brush and cut his hair pretty easily because he was small and we could distract him. Once he got a bit older we realized that cutting his hair was going to continue to be a problem. One of the biggest problems besides him getting bigger was the fact that having Down syndrome, Christopher has low muscle tone, which I have interpreted to mean his body can bend and move in directions and ways that only Playdoh can move. So we began to realize that just holding his hands was not enough, we had to secure his legs as well. If we didn’t, the person using the clippers would unexpectedly find a stray foot squeeze through and whack them in the face at an angle that left us baffled. So we needed to problem solve.
There was one thing we could not compromise on: Not cutting his hair on a regular basis was not an option, we had to keep trying. I knew that if we didn’t, his struggles with sensory issues around his face were more than likely going to get worse not better. We also made a commitment to always help Christopher look his best. He was not super keen on letting us gel and style his hair so a buzz cut was easiest, clean and current. When he was between 5-7 years old, I had a friend who cut hair and we would make private appointments at her house. I would sit in the chair and after making it VERY CLEAR that she had about 4 mins tops to cut his hair, I would take a deep breath, count to three and then quickly wrap my legs over his legs and hug him around the middle while holding down his arms as well. She would maneuver his head the best she could and after about 4 mins she was done. It worked pretty well and we got the job done. I was exhausted and sweaty afterwards and had to end the appointment with candy and a soda in order to complete the rest of my mom day. Eventually the problem became that, dang it, Chris kept growing and getting bigger. So after about the age of 7 we had to come up with a different approach. My oldest son Cooper, at the time was 17 and about 6 ft tall so we made our first attempt at cutting Chris’ hair at home. I was super excited to have this opportunity. Cooper would do a few stretches to prepare for the job at hand, and once stretched he sat on the floor while Chris sat beside him oblivious of what was to come. I would grease the clippers, we would both look at Chris and say “Buddy we love you, count to three” and then Cooper would scoop him up in a big brother bear hug. I had cut my other kids’ hair before so I was familiar with clippers but this was a sort of experience that left me feeling like I had been to the gym….PS I hate the gym! In the end we got it cut and so began the ritual of cutting Chris’s hair at home. For a few years this worked great! Of course, there came a time when my oldest son grew and left home so the bear hug ritual was passed on to my husband. From the age of 11 to about 13 we did this all while giving words of encouragement and letting Chris know how handsome he looked and how well he did even though he would not have won any awards for bravery.
One day, the day of my oldest son’s wedding, we wanted to have Chris’ hair newly cut. I was in a rush and bumped his head with the clippers and long story short I ended up shaving the crown of his head totally bald! Luckily, you couldn’t see it in the pictures but anyone above the height of 4 feet had a full view. By the time he was 13/14, we knew that forcing him to comply was just not going to work forever. I like to be prepared for things, so I knew it was time to test his ability to do it without being held. So began the practice of turning on the clippers and setting them by him, sometimes for up to 5 mins. Then we would move it to his arm for a few minutes, and then we would get him to hold the clippers. He would then begin to let us do a few strips without a huge fight but still several tears and it would often end with us still bear hugging him. Finally at about age 15 and still with some sensory prep he would let me cut his hair without too much push back. Now I will say that by the time we let him hold the clippers he realized that Mom was going to get her way so eventually he would bow his head, as if to place it in a guillotine and allow me to cut quickly. This was huge. I worked quickly and trimmed as much as I could. My kids say that my trademark when cutting their hair is to leave a few random strands just for effect. So I did not disappoint and for the most part it looked pretty good.
To this day, it can be a struggle, but I have come to realize that with a little bribery of chocolate ice cream and a lot of patience, we have come to the point that Chris realizes he will live and his mom is the most stubborn and determined person alive. I know that if we did not continue to try, if we did not have the definite idea that he needed to have his hair cut every three months or so and that it was never an option to give up, we would never be to the place now at age 17 that we can cut his hair, without any bodily injury to either party, and with the minimal cost of chocolate ice cream and a short visit to my local See’s candy shop.