Ponytails and Sensory Processing Disorder: A Hairy Situation
You wouldn’t think a ponytail would be so complicated. Simply brush your hair back, collecting it into one hand and wrapping with a rubber band. But when you have sensory processing disorder, a ponytail takes on a life of its own.
For me, an adult with SPD, the perfect spot for my ponytail is the center of my head, directly between my ears. If it’s too high, I get a headache. If it’s to the side, I feel lopsided all day. Really, I can’t focus if I have my head tilting to one side, or hair touching my shoulder. Too low and the ponytail brushes on the back of my neck which creeps me out. So back, center is the ONLY place for my ponytail.
Here are some Mom Tips to think about when placing a ponytail on a child that has extreme sensory preferences or SPD.
****Please see tips from pediatric occupational therapist Lindsey Biel below!
1. Rubber band
The rubber band that is used is super important. It can’t pull too tight and pull out hairs, but it can’t be loose like a scrunchy with too much fabric or it’s not tight enough. Like Goldilocks, my rubber band has to be just right so I use the thick black rubber bands specifically made for ponytails (they won’t snag on hair like a newspaper rubber band).
While some clips and rubber bands have decorations on them, I can’t handle anything heavy. Got bling? No thank you, it pulls all my attention to the contraption on my head and I can’t think of anything else. I also get headaches when the ponytail weighs me down and my neck will get sore.
When starting the pony tail, first my hair has to be free of tangles. I will start with a horse hair brush so that it’s gentler on my scalp and won’t hurt when I get my bed head under control. Then I’ll switch to a regular hair brush to start tempting the hair to the center location. There are many fabulous brushes made to ease daily brushing and make it pain free, so find one your child loves and take the stress out of fixing their hair in the morning.
The worst part of having your hair brushed is the tangles. Ouch, just thinking about my hair being yanked out hurts. Use a good conditioner or detangler product on your child’s hair to help eliminate hair brushing pain. Prevention is key here and trust. When your child knows it’s not going to hurt, you have a much better chance of brushing quickly and getting hair up and into a rubber band fast.
Ponytails are great to keep your child’s hair out of their face, but wearing one all day can start to wear on you. My head gets sore on the spot where the rubber band is, especially if I’ve leaned against a chair, couch or bed. It feels bruised, is the only way I can think of to describe it. So, maybe remove the ponytail in the evening when your child is reading a book or having some down time so that their head, neck and shoulders get a break.
Now we’re crossing into hair cutting territory, which can be a huge challenge for anyone with SPD. Bangs need to be cut often to keep them out of your child’s eyes, so that’s a lot of maintenance that can be stressful on your both. Perhaps growing out your child’s bangs for a few years until they’re able to handle the constant cutting, having scissors directly in their face. My motto is to keep things as easy, safe, and productive as possible. Banish the bangs or clip them back with barrettes if your child wants them off their forehead.
7. Scalp Massage
At the end of a long day of school, camp, or just being out in the community, your child may need some help unwinding. For me, a scalp massage is pure heaven and can erase a day of a painful ponytail. You can use your hands with a strong rub, or a tool made for scalp massaging (make sure not to use something your child finds uncomfortable), or their favorite brush, keeping strokes long and smooth.
***I asked pediatric occupational therapist Lindsey Biel her thoughts on Ponytails and Sensory Processing Disorder and all things hair related. Here’s her advice and tips:
The scalp is extremely sensitive and washing, brushing, and tying up long hair can be quite painful for a sensitive child.
- acknowledge that you understand how sensitive your child’s scalp is
- offer a scalp massage before making a ponytail, braid or other hairdo
- use a high quality conditioner which coats strands, making them easier to manage
- teach your child to massage his or her own scalp while conditioning hair
- use a wide-tooth detangling comb or detangling brush
- use a scrunchie rather than a regular elastic for ponytails which tend to pull on a few hairs more than others
- Try a butterfly clip to pull front hairs back rather than a ponytail
Thank you Lindsey for contributing your expertise to Ponytails and Sensory Processing Disorder!
If you’re interested in more articles on hair cuts and SPD please see “My Child Hates Hair Cuts.” And more ideas at Pinterest. Follow Peace Love and Autism here: Peace Autism and Love Pinterest
Wishing you and your family all the best, Jackie Linder Olson