How Happy Haircuts Happen

We are all sensory creatures, exploring, understanding, and engaging with the world through our many senses. This is just as true for someone has additional needs as it is for anyone else.

Sometimes we can be under-responsive (or hypo-sensitive) to sensory inputs. At other times we can be over-responsive (or hyper-sensitive) to sensory inputs. You can see some of the effects of this in the picture of the person below, used to illustrate different kinds of sensory processing disorder. One of the examples given is, “I hate having my hair cut, washed or brushed”.

Haircuts can be a very difficult experience for children and young people with a range of additional needs. The sensory feeling of the hair being cut; the bits of hair going down their neck or landing on their face, the noise of clippers (especially around their ears), or just the very difficult feeling that a part of them is being cut off and is now on the floor!

Set calming conditions for haircuts

In our case, our son James will only tolerate having his hair cut under very specific conditions. His need for a haircut having reached the point where it was unavoidable any longer meant that those conditions needed to be met a couple of days ago.

The conditions are that James must have his hair cut on his sofa, which is his favourite, safe, place. Next, I must be the barber, and his mum must assist by collecting all the bits of hair up as they fall. We use clippers, grade 4 all over, the only style I can do. James has something that he likes on his iPad as a distraction while the haircut is done. Mum must make sure that any bits of hair falling on the iPad are removed immediately!

The danger zone

We start at the back, out of sight, to get used to the clippers again. And then do the front, leaving the difficult part around the ears until last. When the rest is done and only the hair around the ears are left, I am always nervous that James will refuse to go on and will have the weirdest hair style in town! With the soundtrack to the film ‘Top Gun’ in my head, we take the clippers into the ‘Danger Zone’ around the ears!

Usually there comes a point when the worst is over and it’s just a matter of tidying up. Checking that the two sides are level, that the back looks neat, and that I haven’t missed any wispy bits. If we don’t finish these areas then it’s not the end of the world. But usually with some encouragement, and the reassurance that we are done with the ‘Danger Zone’ then we can finish off.

Lots of positive praise

A bath straight away afterwards to help remove any scratchy clippings is helpful and then we are done. We give James lots of positive praise for coping so well. A reward of his choice, and then showing him how much smarter he looks, usually gets a smile!

Routines are important. When followed well, can help to ensure that even difficult experiences like haircuts can be coped with and completed well. We only cut James’ hair every three to four months. There is plenty of time for any imperfections to ‘grow out’ and for him to be ready to accept the clippers again!

What haircut stories do you have? How do you support your child or young person when they need to have their hair cut?

Keep snipping!

Springtime is a real time sensory experience

Springtime means that it’s time to get outside.  It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, everywhere you look; there are trees and flowers blooming and growing, just like your little one.  Raising a child with additional needs often means that you may have to modify the environment or the activity, to make it accessible to your child. The colorful landscape, and endless outdoor experiences, offer any family a great opportunity for storytelling, imaginative play, and new experiences.

Sensory garden activities

The mild weather and longer days are perfect for gardening activities.  Some activities such as digging, planting, or weeding offer some great opportunities for fine motor developmental, upper extremity muscle strength, and motor planning.  Your child can help with watering plants, bushes, and flowers.  There are so many ways to water the plants. One can use a hose, a watering can, a plastic water bottle or using a cup and a pail of water.  Either way, your child will be thrilled to witness the changes over time, just from their watering. They’ll also be proud to be ‘your helper’.  If your child is a bit older, this is a great time for them to participate in outdoor experiments or art projects that are just too messy to do inside. 

One of my favorite outdoor activities includes a water sensory table with a theme (such as small plastic animals, shapes, or colorful ping pong balls).  Another great sensory activity for all ages is simply standing a piece of plexiglass up against the house.  Your child can be sitting, in supported sitting or standing, or standing independently.  Spray shaving cream on the plexiglass, let your child create a masterpiece, rinse, and repeat. 

Every nature walk outside can be a visual extravaganza

Every nature walk outside can be a visual extravaganza.  The colors everywhere, the abundance of different hues of green, the people that are out and about around. These all create some pretty neat things to look at, talk about, draw, or to visually track.  Each experience, be they tactile, auditory, or visual creates an empty canvas for you and your child to design.  The more they experience, the greater their memories and feelings on which to build upon. 

Experiencing nature at its best is low cost, convenient, and so exciting

Experiencing nature at its best is low cost, convenient, and so exciting. As a caretaker, here are simple things to consider during this season.  What brings you joy outside? Is there any equipment you need to help your child experience the outdoors? What’s your child’s favorite activity to do outdoors? Is there one novel experience that you can share with your child this season?  Spring: To leap, jump or move forward. How will you help your child leap, or move forward into this season?

Sensory Spring Fun

The Easter school holidays are coming up fast, so here’s some fun sensory ideas to try with your children to help them think about spring!


Spring is the time when all the wildlife wakes up after the winter. If you have a garden or can get to a local park, you will be able to find all sorts of creatures. From creepy-crawlies hiding under stones to beautiful birds, and maybe some animals like a squirrel or a fox. See how many different creatures you can find and try drawing a picture of them to help you remember what they looked like. The Wildlife Watch website might be able to help you identify what you’ve seen:


Depending on where you live, you might be able to hear birds singing. This can be increasingly common in the spring. If you have a local park, or if birds visit your garden, listen to hear their songs. How many different ones can you hear?

If you want to identify what birds you heard, or if you can’t hear the birds near you because of other noise, here’s the RSPB ‘Bird song identifier’ website that can help you!


Either in your garden if you have one, or in a local park, find some spring flowers. There are likely to be crocuses, daffodils, maybe even some tulips. Smell their scent and enjoy how lovely it smells. How many different flowers can you find? Take photos of them so that you can remember them all. To help identify what flowers you have found and smelled, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has a website which can help:


While you are out in the garden or the park, can you find some different things to touch, like a piece of bark, a pinecone, a smooth stone, a snails shell, a dandelion, or some grass to stroke. Try and find as many natural touch sensations as you can. You could also have a go at the ‘Spring Guess? Bags’ idea here:


Once you’ve got back indoors from your spring adventure, maybe you could try some taste activities too. Have a selection of different taste sensations, something sweet, maybe some Easter chocolate or some honey. Something sour, maybe a lemon or some sour Haribo’s. Something salty some crisps or snacks. And then something savoury, some cheese. Have some different fruit and veg options in there too. What taste sensations do they prefer? Here’s a simple tasting exercise that might help:

I hope you have fun exploring Spring through your senses together!

The Importance of Physical Touch and Compassionate Care

Though we are all different and complex in our own ways, we human beings have a few simple needs in common: the need for community, the need for safety, and the need for personal interaction. Those in more vulnerable groups like the elderly, disabled, or medically compromised often feel these needs more strongly than other people do. Because they are dependent on caregivers to obtain them on their behalf. I want to talk about the need for personal interaction because I feel this is the highest of all needs.

Physical interaction, expressed as physical touch or eye gaze, is important for several reasons. From a biological standpoint, every time two people look directly at each other or physically touch (could be as simple as holding hands), oxytocin is released. What is oxytocin and what does it do in the body?

What is Oxytocin and what does it do?

Oxytocin is a hormone released by the pituitary gland. When it releases into the body, it does a number of amazing things! Oxytocin is shown in many situations to have many positive effects. When mothers and newborn babies gaze directly at each other oxytocin is released. A bond begins to form between them. Studies show that when people with PTSD, experience the introduction of oxytocin has been reported to lower their cortisol levels. The “fight or flight” hormone responsible for the feeling of needing to escape a harmful situation. Which gives patients a sense of calm and decreased insecurity. In elderly patients, compassionate care from their doctors in the form of a warm handshake and direct eye contact, has been shown to immediately reduce blood pressure and heart rate. And in therapeutic settings, holding someone’s hand has been reported to reduce stress and anxiety levels.

The effects of giving a small amount of physical contact to someone can make a big difference in those being cared for! Doctors and nurses are steadily increasing their practice of compassionate care, and caregivers can take a page from their book.

How to connect with others

Many of the ways you can connect with those you care for are very simple! When you are speaking to someone, look directly at them, on their level. If the person is in a wheelchair, immobile, or a small child, move to their eye level. If it is appropriate, hold the person’s hand or put a hand on their shoulder. And if you know the person very well, there is no better immediate help than a hug. In other settings, playing music and dancing with a person casually while holding onto their hands can be an amazing therapy.

When you show care to someone by looking at them, speaking in a gentle voice, and giving a small amount of physical contact, you are communicating clearly to the person that you are present and interested in them. There is no substitute for the connection that can be made, and the care conveyed through this simple practice.

How to Make an Autumn Fidget Box

Make An Autumn Natural Fiddles/Fidget Box!

Autumn is a fabulous time of the year, with so many changes in the natural world and so many treasures to look for and find! We’ve been making a natural fiddles/fidget box, maybe you would like to make one too?

There are loads of wonderful, sensory things that you can add to a natural fiddles/fidget box. I’ll show you what we’ve put in ours so far, but we’re looking forward to adding some beautiful leaves when they fall soon too. Here are the other things we’ve found and added, as well as some ‘extras’ that we’ve included in our fiddles/fidget box too!

Pine cones – We live near some pine woods so we’ve gathered these lovely cones for our fiddles/fidget box

Wooden batons – These lovely, tactile wooden batons were cut from fallen branches in the woods near our home

Conkers – We had to walk a bit to where there is an avenue of horse chestnut trees, but it was worth it to get these smooth conkers (be careful if you use these that you supervise their use as they could be a choking hazard)

Feathers – Where we live borders the countryside, so there are plenty of pheasant feathers. There are lots of other lovely feathers that you can find though, just remember to wash them first so that they are nice and clean.

Shells – We also live near the sea (We know, we’re very lucky), so we could go and pick up some nice seashells to add to the fiddles/fidget box. Again, remember to wash them first

There are other natural things that we’re going to add to the fiddles/fidget box; I’ve mentioned autumn leaves, but we’re going to find some nice smooth pebbles too. We’ve also added a few ‘bought’ items but have tried to make them in keeping with the natural approach as much as possible, which for example means no plastic. Here’s some of them…

A colouring book and pencils

A natural linen scarf

Painted wooden dominoes

Painted wooden maracas       

Painted wooden twist-lock block

Wooden box – Finally, you’ll need a nice wooden box to put everything in. We’ve found one that we can paint or decorate to make it look special.

So, how about creating your own natural autumn fiddles/fidget box! It will be lots of fun exploring and collecting together, and you’ll enjoy using the fiddles/fidget box throughout the winter… maybe you could then make a spring one!

Get collecting!

3 Ways to Use Pop It Sensory Toys to Help an Autistic Child

My autistic twins love fidget toys: you know those spinners, stress balls, fidget cubes and little marble mesh things that give your hands something to do while you watch something or read or just need some time out. My daughter’s favourite has to be the pop it ones that you see everywhere in all different sizes and colours where you press the holes in like bubble wrap then turn it over to do the same again. The repetitive motion, the soothing soft sound and the satisfaction of doing a full line or the full toy really help her relax and unwind after a long day at school. 

But other than just sitting popping them on her own is there anything else you can use them for to help an autistic child? Here are a few ideas I do with my daughter that have really helped her.

Turn-taking games

There are larger pop it toys specifically designed for such games but if you don’t want the extra expense of buying one you can use any ones you have already and a spare dice. The idea is simple: you each take turns rolling the dice and popping that number of ‘bubbles’ on the toy and the first to get their toy fully popped wins. This game is especially good for helping children learn turn-taking, developing the concept of fairness (if one pop it is smaller then is that really fair?), and learning to accept losing. For younger children, it helps simple counting and addition and for older children, it can help problem-solving and simple fractions (‘wow, you have half of yours popped already. Well done.’)

This use has been especially useful when waiting has been hard as it can finish at any point. One day recently when my daughter’s anxiety was high about waiting for a programme on TV to start we used this pop it game to take the focus off the time and keep her calm.

Seeing positives 

My daughter really struggles with anxiety and misunderstanding social communication. She can have a tendency to dwell on negativity and hyper-focus on things that might go wrong more than anything positive. I often find her alone on her bed sitting with her fingers popping one of her favourite pop it toys repeating something negative over and over. So I sit with her and she’ll tell me about a teacher that upset her that day, a child who looked at her the wrong way, a sum she got wrong in maths and so on. I would get her to pop one bubble for every different scenario of her day until she felt she’d got to bedtime. Then I’d start at the other side of the same pop it, or at the bottom and I’d get her to think of positive things from the same day. Did anyone say good morning to her? Had the teacher said well done that day? Had a child playing with her? One by one we’d press another bubble for each positive until she came to the end of her day again. 

Almost every time when we counted the bad things and the good things she actually found, very visibly, that in fact her day hadn’t been anything like as bad as she had realised. The visual aspect helped her see that while bad things do happen so do good things and now she’ll often say when I pick her up from school that in her head she popped some bad bubbles but that she also remembers popping good ones too. 

As a calming tool

Emotions can be overwhelming and confusing for many autistic children (and adults) and finding a release from sensory overload is essential. While ear defenders, blackout tents, punch bags and so on have their place sometimes these just can’t be so easily accessed and it’s good to have a portable small item that has the ability to calm and soothe quickly.  When my daughter found the noise in a shop too much one day I got her safely outside and we used her favourite pop it to help her breathe slower and calm down by simply redirecting her stress into something more productive and safe. ‘Let’s sit and count 20 pops shall we?’ Then when she was starting to calm she counted 20 more until her body and mind felt calmer and safer and we were able to try again. 

Pop it toys are cheap, collectable, and colourful and are as individual as every child but to my autistic daughter they are much more than silicon or plastic pads that feel and sound like bubble wrap but a real tool for helping her self calm, interact with others and boost her mental health. They are fast becoming one of her most treasured fidget toys because of their versatility and their addictive soothing properties. 

They may be trending on TikTok, YouTube and in school playgrounds everywhere but for my autistic child, they are not just the latest trend in fidgets but her favourite tool that helps her in a confusing and overwhelming world. 

I wish they’d been around when I was a kid too! 

Mental Health And Special Needs Parenting

World Mental Health Day was on 10th October and it has prompted me to blog about my own experience of mental ill-health. For obvious reasons, it’s a deeply personal subject so I’ll try my best to be as open and honest as possible without being too much.

I was diagnosed with anxiety when my triplets were around six months old. One of the babies has spina bifida and hydrocephalus and I’d just had my worst ever relapse of my Multiple Sclerosis. I just felt totally overwhelmed and remember sitting in front of my doctor and saying “I’m scared for Jacob all the time, I can’t stop worrying I’ll lose him.” He was amazing and gently let me explain how I was just not coping with the demands that were in front of me or the emotional load of having a beautiful little boy with complex health needs. He then told me part of the problem was the fact I was a trained nurse so was always watching for clinical signs when I should be enjoying being a mummy. He also said he’d be more worried if I hadn’t gone to see him. We worked out a management plan together and I felt so much better for it.

In saying that, I think anxiety will always be something I will have to manage instead of something I can be cured of. I’m sure a lot of special needs parents will relate completely to this because it is terrifying to have such love for a little person who may be very unwell at times. Seven years on, I believe my anxiety is better managed but I still take medication for it and I still find certain things will flare it massively such as Jacob (or his siblings!) being unwell. There are some “traits” recognised in people with mental health difficulties that I also experience.

For example, I have what doctors like to call “catastrophic thinking” which basically means if Jacob has a simple cold, I’ll always have a nagging voice telling me I’m missing a shunt blockage/malfunction and he’s going to die. If my MS is bad one day, I’ll always feel that it’s this exact day that I’ll be unable to walk anymore. I sometimes feel that people, even good friends or family, think the absolute worst of me. My rational brain knows all of these things are unlikely, but my anxiety will take a small thing and blow it up massively. I’ve had to learn how to step back and ask myself “Is this possible? Is it true? Could this be anxiety-driven?”.

I also find it hard to switch my brain off. I overthink everything. I forget why I walk into a room at times because of my MS (and possibly having triplets…) but could tell you what I said wrong in a conversation from a decade ago. I’ll worry about what will happen if I can’t stick to a commitment I have made and whether or not I’ll be believed if I’m unwell. Night times are the worst for this resulting in insomnia, which is obviously very unhelpful (everything is worse without sleep isn’t it?!). We have a camera for Jacob’s nocturnal seizures and I end up watching it sometimes just checking he is breathing. It is truly so terrifying.

Apparently, a happy Mum (and/or dad or caregiver) can literally almost “immunise” your kids against mental health challenges by teaching healthy coping mechanisms. We talk a lot about feelings in our house- what they are, why we have them, the fact they are normal and healthy ways to cope with them. Jacob now sees a counsellor himself and as she put it, we all want our kids to grow up in a world where they’d never face any hardships, but that’s just not realistic. So it’s our job to show them HOW to manage in healthy ways when things go wrong. That’s now what I try to teach our kids and what I am constantly trying to practice myself.

4 Ways On How I Do It

I don’t think there will be a parent, especially a special needs parent, who hasn’t heard the phrase “I don’t know how you do it!”. I have. When I was pregnant with our triplets, although then it was generally “oh no, I hope you’ve lots of help!” or other negative comments. I told a lady in marks and spencers I was having triplets once and she literally just stood with her mouth wide open and then walked away in shock. Charming.

So…how do I do it? Here are a few ways.

  1. It takes a village

It is so true what they say about it taking a village. When the babies were born, they spent their first few weeks in a baby unit because they were premature. The nurses, doctors and healthcare assistants became our support since family members (except their Nannys!) weren’t allowed in. As the years have gone on, I got paid support in the form of a “personal assistant” which is a title unworthy of what Natasha and then Debbie did for us. They are both still valued friends. The kids also have a wide family who loves them and my Mum in particular is with us most days to help, especially with the limitations imposed by my MS.

  1. Routine

For us, the routine has been the key from day one. The amazing nurses in the baby unit had the babies on four hourly feeds before we brought them home in an attempt to help us cope. We stuck to that for most of the time we were bottle feeding (breast was NOT best for us) and it worked brilliantly. Even now, when they are nearly seven, we keep them in a pretty set routine. It has changed as the kids’ needs have, but it works for us all to have a routine. I also write things down, especially Jacob’s epilepsy, so I have a “grab and go” pack ready in case routine breaks and he needs to be transferred to the hospital.

  1. I have fewer friends

I remember a time when travelling in a car would have caused Jacob to have a seizure which inevitably needed his rescue medication then possibly an ambulance. Nobody knew why it happened because he wasn’t photosensitive! I wasn’t happy to drive with the kids alone but also wasn’t willing to be away from home by myself because Jacob was just so unwell during that time of his life. I tried to explain this to a group of really cherished friends at one stage and for whatever reason, it was taken in a way I’d not intended at all. Nobody in the situation had any ill intent, but for reasons I still don’t understand, we no longer speak. You will likely lose friends you never thought you would in your journey as a special needs parent, but you’ll also meet so many amazing people.

  1. Me time

I’m in that slightly unbelievable period when the kids are out at school and I have time to myself again during the day! At first, I was quite lost about what to do and felt on constant “alert” in case Jacob took unwell. He has settled into his new class so well though, and with his epilepsy being much more stable I am taking more time to do things I enjoy. My amazing cousin has loaned me her beautiful horse and I am meeting new people through him and enjoying riding again whenever my health allows.

The truth is, you’ll never know how someone else does it because no matter how close you may be, you don’t live their lives. Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors. So I try to be understanding of others and learn from my mistakes (there have been a LOT!). Mostly though, I just keep moving forwards with my beautiful family!

John Lewis Christmas Advert 2021: Showcasing Inclusion

They have done it again! Watching the John Lewis Christmas 2021 advert had me welling up in tears as I saw, once again, a story of inclusion unfolding before me. Like in 2019 with the story of Edgar the dragon and his friend Ava, the new advert showcases how to be inclusive of someone who is different.

As I watched Nathan reach out to Skye, the space alien that had crash-landed near his home, the ways that he made a difference for her gives us some great lessons in how we can do the same for anyone, whatever ways they might be different from us. Their story could easily relate to someone who is a child refugee, or a child with additional needs, for example.

Here are some of the things that Nathan did to make a difference for Skye that touched me:

  1. He noticed and made the effort to check

Nathan saw Skye’s spaceship crash land. It would have been easy to ignore what he had seen, but he didn’t, he followed up and made the effort to check it out. So often if we see something happen it is easier for us to look the other way, to not get involved, to leave it to someone else to help. Nathan took the time to go and check out what he had seen for himself, he noticed and got involved.

  • He was initially afraid, but he went back

When Nathan finds Skye initially he is afraid, but then he decides to go back again; he overcomes his uncertainty. Sometimes people can be afraid of difference, and remain afraid, unwilling to see beyond the difference and to see the person. To challenge themselves about why they are afraid. Nathan teaches us that we can overcome this uncertainty and fear and see the person too.

  • He learned to communicate with Skye

Nathan found a way to connect with Skye, to reach out to her. He mirrors her own communication to show that he wants to be her friend. People might use a different language, or communicate in alternative ways; Nathan shows us that if we try then anyone can adapt to the ways of communicating that other people use.

  • He met Skye’s needs

Nathan realised that Skye must be hungry, so he snuck out with some food for her. It can be easy to overlook the basic needs that people might have, especially if they have limited resources of their own. Nathan teaches us to be observant and to meet the needs of people who have less than us or have an immediate need.

  • He had fun with Skye

Nathan and Skye become friends and enjoy spending time together, overcoming their differences to find each other in a snowball fight and watching a film. Sometimes there is a perception that people who are very different to us can’t be our friends, but Nathan and Skye dispel that myth and show us that genuine friendship can blossom anywhere.

  • He missed her when she went away

When Skye has to go home, Nathan misses his new friend. Sometimes there can be an unfortunate sense of relief in certain settings if, for example, a child with additional needs doesn’t come to the club one week. Nathan shows us those genuine relationships, allowing us to really appreciate and care for everyone, which means that if anyone isn’t there then they are really missed.

So, let’s learn together this Christmas. Let’s notice people who are different to us and make an effort to get to know them, finding that they are really just like us in so many ways. Let’s not be afraid of difference, but let’s embrace it. Let’s learn to communicate in whatever ways we, and the person we’re with, needs us to. Let’s help to meet people’s needs. Let’s break down barriers and have fun together. And let’s miss each other for all the right reasons when we can’t be together.

Here’s the link to the John Lewis Christmas 2021 advert:

See also:

Why Children With Additional Needs Are Like Edgar The Dragon