Jennifer McCafferty’s young son Isaiah has autism, and sometimes it can “be so very, very hard.”
Children with autism are not all the same, and many can respond to situations in unpredictable ways. Certain sounds or sensations can be inordinately pleasing. In the same vein, certain sounds or feelings can be uncomfortable to the point of grating, which often means that haircuts—a complete stranger approaching your head with a pair of noisy clippers—can be terrifying and painful.
“Haircuts with Isaiah are no small feat,” McCafferty shared on her Facebook page. “He hates having anything near his ears, the sound of clippers sends him into a tailspin.”
Some children throw humongous tantrums, trying to get away. Others can cope if it is done slowly and in a calm and comforting environment. But catering to autistic children certainly isn’t the standard treatment when you walk into a typical barber shop.
On one particular evening when McCafferty needed to get Isaiah’s hair cut, things were difficult as usual. Isaiah was ready to have a meltdown, and McCafferty was ready to give up.
But Kaylen, the woman on staff at their local Sports Clips, showed everyone she was up for the challenge.
She got down on the floor where Isaiah was crouching, let him sit in her lap, and then cut his hair slowly as they talked about Dory and Christmas.
“She even let him spray her with her water bottle,” McCafferty said. “Autism can be so very, very hard, but people like this make our days just a little easier.”
The story she shared on Facebook went viral, and many parents of autistic children and barbers chimed in.
Not everyone knows that for a child with autism, a simple haircut can be downright traumatic. A 5-minute haircut could turn into an hour-long task of dedicated conversation and noodling into difficult positions. Not every barber makes the effort.
James Williams, from the U.K., is also one of the few barbers who will do this, and thus has parents making trips as far as 300 miles to come to his salon.
“This is fantastic to see,” he commented. “I’m glad more are thinking outside the box. As that’s what you have to do with autism.”
For some barbers, these unusual methods may be completely foreign to them. Keith Thomas, another barber, shared an interesting encounter he had.
“I worked in a three chair shop that was very busy on Saturdays,” he wrote. He came to work one day and noticed there was a very vocal and active little boy who everyone seemed to know. But the other two barbers seemed to be purposely slowing down their work so Thomas would be the one to have to take care of the boy’s haircut.
“He plopped down and immediately began to tell me no clippers, only scissors and stay away from his ears,” Thomas wrote. That was fine with him. He got in front of the boy, and told him he would be in charge. The boy sat up a little taller, and they each made a new friend that day.
He became a repeat customer of Thomas’s, and after several haircuts together, one day the boy came in and told him he would be moving, as his father was in the military and was being transferred. Then he said, “you can use the clippers today.”
Parents shared similar stories, and many added that seeing that other people “got it” brought tears to their eyes. Having a child with autism tends to make many a parent feel responsible for raising awareness, and knowing they are not alone makes all the difference in the world.