Meleri Thomas, from the National Autistic Society, explains that autistic children often find having their hair cut extremely distressing due to the sensory challenges associated with the condition. They can experience distress because of the feeling of hands running through the hair landing on the face or body and the noise of scissors.
Therefore, parents of an autistic child find this responsibility exceptionally challenging. Autistic children get upset if their routines are changed, react unusually negatively when asked to do something by someone else, are not aware of other people’s personal space, or can become unusually intolerant of people entering their own space.
Therefore, the visit to a hairdresser is very difficult for both parties, the hairdresser and the child. Fortunately, some hairdressers give these children all the time and patience they require.
16-year old Evan O’Dwyer has been getting his hair cut by O’Connell at Baldy Barber in Blackpool for the past 14 years. Yet, one day, he wasn’t going to sit in the barber’s chair and was getting very anxious and agitated, but as the haircut had started, they had to finish it.
One of his safe places is the backseat of his mother’s car, and when he refused to get his hair cut in the shop, barber Donncha O’Connell grabbed his tools and followed Evan to the back of the car.
His kindness and warmth left a lasting impression on young Evan, who is nonverbal, and his mother, Deirdre, says that due to his pleasant personality, Evan no longer finds cutting his hair a problem. He can decide where and when he wants to get his hair done.
Fortunately, O’Connell is not the only one that has developed a unique technique to approach autistic children.
James Williams, the owner of a barber shop in Wales, Great Britain, has cut a child’s hair in some interesting places: in a car, lying on the floor, sitting on a desk, on a windowsill.
He says that these children should never be turned away. He struggles to help others understand autism, as it has changed his whole aspect of the world.
He says that there are parents who come to him crying because they were so happy to find someone willing to go the extra mile for their kid.
Mr. Williams intends to make a map of hairdressers where autistic children “are actively welcome” and publish it online.
The 29-year-old now has clients who travel from as far afield as Liverpool and Gloucester. He has started a charity called Autism Barbers Assemble to raise awareness among other hairdressers of how to approach children with autism when cutting their hair.
He claims that he picks up on the child’s emotions, and when a child is getting to the point to having a melt-down, he decides it is enough and they will try again next time or have a break and an opportunity to calm down.
One of his clients, a 5-year old boy named Seb, had a bit of a hard time at first. As the mother, Claire, explained, Seb would walk around the salon with James following him cutting it when he could.
Over time, he learned to sit in the chair with his iPad and, for the most part, allows Jim to do it. Yet, he still grumbles, but this humble barber jokes with him.
Great job, barbers! People like you make the world a better place!