6 Ways I Survive Haircuts

So here I am, waiting for a haircut. And you may not know this, but letting someone cut my hair is a god damn miracle, because for many years (read decades), I wouldn’t let anyone except Jess cut my hair.

But a few years ago, I started investigating if I could make a real haircut work, and it took some time and some tweaking, but I can proudly say that I get my hair cut regularly, and, AND I survive it.

So here are a few quick things I do to keep myself sane, and then I’m off to get trimmed.

Wish me luck!

1. Plan the day: So I think the number one most important thing for me is to keep my haircut day clear. No other appointments, no other stress, basically keeping myself as un-stimulated as possible, to make up for the inevitable overload. So I keep my day low-key. Watch a favorite show, eat my safe foods, cuddle with the cats. I want to keep myself as fresh as possible for my appointment.

2. Schedule Smart: My stylist knows me really well now, and when I make appointments, she schedules me when her schedule is mostly free. So I’m not in a room with 6 other people and clippers and blow dryers blaring. It’s just her, me, and maybe a couple other people. Going to smaller salon also helps with this, because they’re not trying to get people in and out as quick as possible like a chain does.

3. Get to know a stylist: I am so lucky. I found my stylist because my wife went to her, and they got talking and Jess learned that my stylist (L) had an autistic sister in law, and she offered to see if we could make it work. Now I realize that not all stylist can know someone with autism, but finding someone who can listen and work with you makes a whole lot of different. L knows that I don’t like small talk, so we only talk about the cut. She turns the chair away from the mirror for me. She asks good questions about what I want. I know I lucked out, and it usually takes some stylist shopping, but it makes a huge difference.

4. Sensory sensory sensory: The absolute worst part of the haircut process for me is the many ways that I can get sensory overload. There are things that I do now to keep things as doing as possible. Here is a short but hopefully complete list. Washing my hair in room temperature water, and having strategic towels to keep water out of my eyes and ears. When touching is necessary, firm pressure at all times. No snip snip of shears, long deliberate cuts that don’t sound hellish. No blow dryers ever. Extra thorough efforts to get hair off my neck, so I can make it home to shower. I’m sure there are more, but these are my important ones

5. Be prepared: I still make sure that I’m prepared for a haircut appointment like I am for anything else. So for me, that means stim toys, earplugs, and miscellaneous things like wipes, snacks, and something to read. You never know when someone will be running late and you’ll have to wait, or when you’ll be more overwhelmed than you predicted. Lastly, if you can go with a buddy, absolutely do. Having someone safe and familiar around is calming, and if necessary they can help you communicate and advocate for you if necessary.

6. The Cheat: This is cheating slightly I think, because most salons don’t have a shop dog, but I am greatly helped by this tiny bundle of love!

So it’s haircut time, with any luck I’ll make it through, and my hair will finally be out of my face. Wish me luck!

Let’s Be Practical

It all started with a Buzzfeed quiz: Eat Your Way Through Europe and We’ll Reveal Your Dream City! I got Barcelona, and while I was reading through the blurb describing warm oceans and sea breezes I thought to myself “you know, I’d love to see Barcelona some day.”

But let’s be practical, I probably won’t.

I think the most heartbreaking part of being diagnosed as an adult is that I often still think that I am neurotypical. And since I’ve spent 28 years being bombarded by the idea that I can do anything I want, I see no reason why I can’t. As long as I Try hard enough.

I think we all know though, that autism doesn’t work like that. Now I’m not implying that we shouldn’t try! Yoda said “do or do not, there is no try”, and I disagree with the little green bastard because I think “try” is not a placeholder for “do”, I think trying is an action in its own right.

And because of this, I subscribe to the school of Realistic Trying. To me, this means that I’m never going to stop pushing forward and doing things, but I’m going to be realistic about how I go about it. Let’s take Barcelona. Barcelona is in Europe. In Spain. I live in St. Louis, which is 4644 miles away, smack dab in the center of the United States. And thanks to the myth of Trying Hard, a large part of my brain still thinks that traveling that far is doable.

Let’s make a quick list of barriers to travel:

  1. I have a routine, and if it is not followed, it will eventually lead to a meltdown.
  2. I can’t deal with unpredictability, and traveling to a new continent is full of them.
  3. I am a picky eater, and my precariously balanced diet depends on me being able to eat safe foods.
  4. I get overwhelmed by people. I’m pretty sure a transatlantic flight would be the end of me.
  5. Sensory Overload. Enough said.

Yet my brain tells me that I Can Do Anything, and my common sense can’t shut it up. My brain tells me to Follow My Dreams. Common sense suggests maybe finding a more realistic dream, but this is quickly shut down. I Can Do Anything, my brain proclaims.

I can’t do anything.

I can do some things, and that list is always growing. This is what I need to focus on because I logically know that I can’t just push through a meltdown with the power of Trying. What I can do, and what I need to do, is to get to know myself better. Find out where I can make little adjustments without compromising my mental health.

So on days when I try something new, I keep my schedule as close to normal as possible, even if I’m not at home. I talk myself through things that might be unpredictable, so I can be ready for them. I pack myself just-in-case food, and I know where the bathrooms are- just in case I need a break. And for the sensory worries? I never leave home without earplugs, stim toys, and distractions.

I wish my brain thought those little adjustments were a success, but I think we all know by now that it doesn’t. Because my dreams didn’t come true, it tells me, I must not have tried hard enough. Who cares about small victories? I’m not lying on a beach* in Barcelona, so I’ve failed.

Let’s all give a rousing Shut Up to my brain, because yeah, maybe I haven’t made it to Europe yet. Maybe I never will. But hey, let’s be realistic, I’ve got Nashville and Chicago, and Kansas City, all a hop, skip, and a jump away, so let the road trips begin!

*I would never do this anyway. Wet sand is sensory hell for me.




5 Good Textures and 3 Bad Ones

I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for a satisfying texture. Whether it’s squishy, or plushy, or smooth, or nubbly, I want to touch it. My wife says that I see with my hands, in the sense that oftentimes looking at something isn’t enough, I have to touch it to get a good sense of it. There are hazards to touching everything that I see. Some textures are just bad, and sometimes I can’t tell they’re going to be bad, so I get surprised. Let me tell you, it’s a terrible sort of surprise.

So, as a bit of a Public Service Announcement of Textures, here are some of my favorites,  and a few that are sensory hell.

5 Good Textures

1. Smooth Rocks– If rock hunter were a profession, I’d definitely be at the top of the field, mostly because I’m on the lookout for good ones wherever I go because smooth rocks just feel so good. Whether I’m scoping out landscaping or taking a walk in the park, if I see a rock I like, I’m going to pick it up. I’m probably going to keep it as well. Their weight, plus their texture, plus how they always feel cool no matter how hot it is, makes them one of my favorite things. Very decent river rocks can also be obtained at the dollar store, but they’re slightly less satisfying without the hunt.

2. Soft (Flannel/Fleece/Minky) Fabric- I feel like fabric was everyone’s first stim toy. Even neurotypical kids love soft fabrics. They pet and rub them on their face and bring them everywhere. Granted, most kids grow out of that, and I didn’t, but that’s ok with me. Some of my favorite fabrics are flannel, fleece, and that silky soft minky fabrics that baby blankets are often made of. If I am at home, I am surrounded by my favorite fleece blanket, my corduroy elephant, and my flannel marble maze. All of these textures are so comforting and so stroke-able. And I definitely only rub my face on them at home.

3. Dry Rice/Beans- If the soft fabrics from above were comforting, dried beans and rice for me are energizing. There’s something about all the individual pieces being the same size, the fact that they’re smooth, and the noise they make when they’re played with that make them so satisfying. The only downside, for me at least, is that I have to have play only and eat only types because apparently, no one appreciates me using their food as my own personal rain stick.

4. Running Water- This one is full of contradictions because I hate being wet. But there is something about putting my hands, and only my hands, mind you, under moving water is an almost mind-blowing experience. It takes me outside of myself, my brain is quiet and everything kind of falls away. It is because of this that I love fountains. I have favorite fountains all over the city, which I make an effort to visit regularly. For some reason, tap water and washing my hands just isn’t the same.

5. Paintbrushes- Have you ever run a paintbrush over your hands? It’s heaven. The bristles are silky soft, and they give just enough pressure to hit all of my happy buttons. Makeup brushes work much of the same way, but holy crap are those expensive! Paintbrushes are fairly cheap, very portable, and a great sort of input that I haven’t found from anything else. Being able to “paint” myself before I paint makes the whole art experience even more enjoyable.

3 Bad Textures

1. Sand- For someone that loves the beach, I sure hate sand. It’s gritty, it gets everywhere, and you keep finding in the most random places (in my socks? I didn’t even wear socks!). One of the worst feelings in the world for me is getting sand under my fingernails. *Shudder* I don’t like it. Dry sand is terrible, but wet sand it tolerable, mostly I think because it doesn’t cling.

2. Tags- My Autistic peeps, do I really have to say anything about tags? For something so small, it causes so much discomfort, and sometimes even pain. An accidentally missed tag can keep me from concentrating until it’s gone. And while I appreciate that more tags are easy to rip out, but still, why are they even necessary! If I ever run for office, it will be on a No More Itchy Tags platform!

3. Anything Sticky- My hands being sticky is basically an automatic meltdown. To the point where I carry wipes with me everywhere I go, on the off chance that I might get something on my hands. When I’m making dinner, I usually have to wash my hands a half dozen or so times, which certainly makes things take longer than they should. Like how running water up in the “good textures” section took me takes me outside myself, my hands being sticky sends my brain into panic mode, and every section of my brain is just screaming “SOMETHING IS WRONG. WRONG WRONG WRONG”. And it is wrong. Sticky is wrong.

So those are the textures, good and bad. I bet you guys overlap with me on at least a few of them, but if you’ve got any sensory heaven or sensory hell textures, I’d love to hear about them!