In Ottawa, a teacher decided to cut an autistic boy’s hair without permission. For weeks, the teacher had been calling the parents of the boy, saying his hair was too long and he chewed on it. From the CBC:
The special needs teacher complained that Dominic, who has autism, was chewing on his hair and that it covered his face.
When Brandon [the mom] asked her son if she could cut his hair, the boy refused, saying he wanted to grow it out “to touch the ground.”
Haircuts are super fraught. My son does not like haircuts. He also will not tolerate brushing hair or significant washing of longer hair, which puts us in a complex situation, but honestly not an unusual one for parents of kids of any degree of neurotypicality or neurodiversity. Every four months or so, we go to a barbers and we wait. He goes to the bathroom. He surveys the room. He picks a chair. He sits in the chair. He says, “big,” by which he means the big clippers instead of the smaller buzzier ones or scissors. I kneel in front of him and hold his hands. We count together. It’s a whole process. Parents and kids – neurotypical or neurodiverse – have a lot of these kinds of debates and decisions, and I feel pretty good about where we end up. He also likes the texture of his short hair, just not the process getting there.
I’m imagining, though, that a teacher cut my son’s hair at one of the longer points, and the fury I’d feel. Is it assault under Canadian law? I dunno, but it’s definitely actionable. I also think it’s part of the Cult of Compliance, where kids are all expected to comply to norms, and neurodiverse ones are often coerced (as are kids perceived as non-typical, i.e. non heteronormative and white).
Since her son’s hair seemed to be so important to him, Brandon decided to let it grow.
“I didn’t think it’s hurting anyone for him to grow his hair out, so when a teacher kept persisting that I cut his hair, I was like, ‘I don’t need to get his haircut. That’s OK,'” Brandon said.
She was shocked when the teacher called her a few days ago, before her son arrived home, to tell her Dominic had given him permission to cut his hair.
“I know that my son would never say that it was OK, because he has asked me to never cut his hair,” she said.
When her son came home there were thick chunks of hair missing from the sides of his face, as well as some cut from the back.
Brandon called the principal to complain.
“He’s a teacher, not a hairdresser, and we didn’t get any consent or anything,” she said.
In a statement, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board said the haircut was “an unusual practice” and that it had placed the teacher on “home assignment” while an investigation takes place.
A lot of folks responded to my tweet saying, assault! I bet not, alas.