As if live crawling bugs in your child's hair wasn't upsetting enough, parents of children with SI problems know an extra level of head-lice dread: How on earth will they ever get their tactile-defensive, movement-craving, hair-wash-hating or odor-intolerant kiddos to stand for repeated shampoos and hours of endless nit-picking?
My husband has suggested that if our sensory-challenged 12-year-old, who practically needs to be restrained just to have his hair combed, ever got head lice, we'd have no choice but to shave his head. Hoping there might be other alternatives, I asked Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, and Nancy Peske, authors of Raising a Sensory Smart Child, for ideas on handling head lice with children who have sensory integration dysfunction. Their suggestions:
1. If possible, find a lice shampoo with a smell your child can tolerate. If it's intolerable, give him something else to smell. Put a little Vicks Vapo-Rub or an essential oil under his nostrils to kill the smell. Or let him wear swimming noseplugs while you're washing!
2. Explain exactly what the problem is to the child and give her some degree of control. For example, let her decide what time of day to pick the nits, what room to do it in, what video she'd like to be watching or music she'd like to listen to, and what her reward for tolerating this very unpleasant task should be (a toy, a privilege, etc.)
3. Desensitize the scalp before attempting to remove nits. Give a firm scalp massage or even brief superficial vibration.
4. Let the child watch what you are doing in the mirror. Provide some predictability for unpleasant sensations by telling your child which part of his head you will be cleaning next.
5. Let the child sit in a beanbag chair or ball chair -- cover the area with a disposable cloth, of course.
6. When you wash all the bedding, you are likely to have to use strong-smelling detergent. If your child is smell-sensitive, wash the bedding a second time to get rid of the strong odor.