Autistic children are unique persons who struggle daily in this modern world. They need their routines to remain their tranquility and once they are changed they react distressful. According to Meleri Thomas, working at the National Autistic Society, certain routines like hair cutting can be very distressful for autistic children. These children become very distressed during this process as a result of the sensory challenges related to this condition. For instance, the noise of scissors and the feeling of hands running through the hair, face or body can be extremely distressing for them.
Parents of an autistic child aside many responsibilities they find this one rather challenging. An autistic child reacts negatively when it is asked to do something by someone else since it is not aware of other people’s personal space, and can be rather intolerant when their own space is concerned.
The visit to a hairdresser can be extremely challenging for both, the hairdresser and the child. But, there are hairdressers that are willing to do whatever it takes to help these children and show great patience. One of those hairdressers is for sure the barber Donncha O’Connell who works at Baldy Barber in Blackpool.
He has a regular autistic client, the 16-year old Evan O’Dwyer and he has been cutting his hair for 14 years at his salon. Evan commonly sits on the barber’s chair and his barber finishes the job easily, but one day, he got very anxious and agitated, and could not stand sitting on the barber’s chair. O’Connell started the hair cutting and he had to finish, so he followed Evan to the mother’s car where he found it as calming place, especially the backseat. Evan sat at his safe zone and O’Connell with his scissors finished the job there.
This kindness and warmth of O’Connell left a great mark on young Evan, who is nonverbal, and nowadays he has no issues anymore with cutting his hair. His mother, Deirdre, says that now he decides where and when he wants to get his hair done.
There are many people like O’Connell who also developed various techniques to approach autistic children. One perfect example is the owner of a barber shop in Wales, Great Britain, James Williams, 29, who is willing to cut children’s hair at any place: sitting on a desk, on a windowsill, in a car, lying on the floor, and so on.
His motto in life is always to be there for the children in need and thus contributes to the efforts of better understanding of autism. This young hairdresser has started a charity named as Autism Barbers Assemble with a goal to raise awareness among other hairdressers about autistic children. He even offers methods how to approach these children when cutting their hair.
Williams reports the immense gratitude parents of autistic children have for his willingness to do everything possible to fulfill this simple task for many children. He even plans to make a map of hairdressers where autistic children “are actively welcome” and publish it online. This map would be of great help for many parents.
He says that the parents are so happy that they cry of joy, and he has even clients coming from Liverpool and Gloucester do not minding the long journey.
He does the cutting by carefully monitoring the child’s emotions, and when a child reaches the point of having a melt-down, he stops, and makes a break so that the child can calm down, and then they try again or leave it for the next time.
Although he is always willing to help he also has a hard time with some of his clients like the 5-year old boy named Seb. He could not sit still, and Williams had to follow him all over the salon and do the cutting whenever it was possible. His mother, Claire, explains that now Seb is stiller as they found a solution having his iPad while sitting on the chair. Seb can be still restless but mostly allows Jim to do the cutting. Williams never complains and always jokes with Seb.
It is good to know that there are still people that are willing to help no matter what, and they are our true heroes.