First, a little background, because while I have blogged a little about this, some of the extended conversation occurred on FB and wasn't as visible.
My children both have ASD diagnoses and my husband and I are quite confident that we, too, would have had diagnoses if our childhood occurred today. We're old, and back in the day, things worked differently, so instead, we got treated badly and called all kinds of names and didn't have many friends until we were old enough to find our nerd compatriots in places like high school, college, and employment at tech companies. Because I can clearly see where my children's sensory issues come from, I am not inclined to push for compliance with norms -- like keeping hair neatly brushed -- that I don't see much of a purpose in. When the tangles become a problem and the kids object to us addressing that problem (carefully, with conditioner and detangler and a wide array of combs and brushes) we negotiate a haircut.
Over the years, the preschool, A.'s kindergarten class and her first grade class have all tackled the hair problem with some form of Let's Play Beauty Shop. They've made little to no progress in reducing scalp sensitivity or getting her to be happy about having her hair brushed. My sister -- her kids have diagnoses also, and she's very familiar with sensory issues -- tried with my kids, and she, too, has had limited success. Things aren't getting worse, but they aren't changing much, either. Given that I hate having anyone touch my head, and won't let anyone else brush my hair (and honestly, generally don't do a lot with my own hair beyond getting the tangles out), I was not expecting anything to ever work.
Fast forward to the most recent IEP review (the annual, not the 3 year); the topic came up again. I mentioned it to the neurologist (because that appointment was the very next day, mostly by coincidence), who suggested trying the Mason Pearson brush. I had one, and I think I had tried it unsuccessfully before, but this time, for whatever reason, A. was really okay with it. So what required a lot of bribery and cajoling to get her to tolerate is now very okay, and no big deal at all.
But Mason Pearson is an expensive brand, and I thought this was ridiculous to recommend to a family with a kid with sensory issues, because if it didn't work, that's kind of a lot of money to try on a chance. I went looking for a knockoff. My criteria were: cushion (because the "give" over tangles rather than engaging with them directly is crucial to why this brush is so less painful to use -- repeatedly going over untangles slowly and gently and without damaging the hair or pulling on the scalp), 100% natural bristles (I think it feels better, and of course there's the oil redistribution feature which is healthy for the hair and makes it less likely to tangle again anyway). The Spornette brushes looked good, but reviews suggested quality control issues, so I ordered a Denman instead.
I've now received the Denman, and I'll tell you straight up I can see two problems vs. Mason Pearson. The cushion on the Denman is MUCH stiffer than on the Mason Pearson. It's not as bad as a brush with a completely stiff plastic or wood backing, but it's close. There are plenty of rows of bristles, but the bristles feel very different from the bristles on the Mason Pearson. They are substantially softer and thinner feeling. The two _almost_ balance out in terms of pressure to the scalp, however, it's overall negative in both directions when it comes to reducing tangles.
I'll try it on my daughter later tonight. The Denman is a high quality brush at a very good price point and brushes are quite personal. However, the features which make the Mason Pearson so amazing for scalp sensitivity are missing in the Denman to a much greater degree than I would have anticipated either from the technical description of the product or from the (MANY) comparative reviews I found online.
A couple more data points. My walking partner, M., who is an adult, has significant scalp sensitivity issues and problems with hair brushing. I had her try both the Denman and the Mason Pearson. She prefers the Mason Pearson. My husband tells me that he was chatting with another parent at therapeutic riding, and learned that they, too, have a Mason Pearson brush they use with their child. I feel like capitalism and the world of knock-offs has really let me down. There ought to be a cheap, as good (or nearly as good) alternative, and I can find no indication that there is one.
My daughter has weighed in. She says, "If there was an app, I'd rate them both 5 stars. They are similar." Okee, dokee. Denman is an acceptable knockoff after all. I'll update this if there are further developments.