A lot of kids hate getting their hair cut. If the boredom doesn't cause them to wriggle out of their seats, then the clippers are too loud, or they just don't like the way it feels.
For children on the autism spectrum — about 1 in every 45 kids — those problems are greatly intensified.
6-year-old Wyatt from Quebec, for example, deals with both hyper- and hyposensitivity. Having his hair touched coupled with the noise from the hair cutting equipment causes him major anxiety.
Wyatt's challenges have been a struggle even for experienced stylists to manage in the past, as his mom, Fauve Lafrenière, told WDRB.
Everything changed when Wyatt's mom found a barber willing to go the extra mile for her son.
And now that barber is an internet hero.
Jacob with a young client in his shop. Photo via Franz Jacob, used with permission.
Franz Jacob at Authentischen Barbier in Quebec has been cutting Wyatt's hair for two years now and has learned a lot about how to make the process as comfortable for his young client as possible.
Jacob locks the front door of the salon to keep people from walking in during the cut. He also keeps the shop as quiet as possible and is willing to keep at it for however long it takes to finish — sometimes hours.
Recently, a photo of Jacob lying on the floor next to Wyatt while finishing a trim went viral, stealing the hearts of millions across the web.
Kerry Magro, an autism advocate, gives out a few tips to barbers who want to accommodate kids with autism.
Things like: offer up a "game plan" of exactly what's going to happen and use a treat or prize at the end as a reward. (Calming Clippers also created a directory that can be a good starting point to find autism-friendly barbers in your area.)
But Jacob says he never had any specialized training or even much experience in dealing with kids who have autism. "I just figured it out," by watching Wyatt closely, he says in a message.
Not many people would be willing to lay on the floor to finish a few-dollar haircut. But a little bit of extra caring goes a long way.
Little gestures like Jacob's can make the world a lot more welcoming for people of all ages with autism.
But it's not just barber shops and salons. Some typically loud, chaotic Chuck E. Cheese locations are now offering Sensory Sensitive Sundays, hours or designated hours where the music and lights come down for a calmer experience to help reduce sensory overload. Kid-mecca Toys R Us stores in the U.K. have incorporated a similar experience, with plans of it being implemented in the U.S. soon. Some movie theaters use the approach (sound low, lights slightly up) to accommodate not only young kids, but teens and adults too.
As for Jacob, he says now that word is spreading, other parents are bringing in kids like Wyatt to his shop for haircuts, driving hours just to do so, and he's even started giving trims to late-stage cancer patients. "I take great pride in doing all this for my community," he says.
It's awesome to see retailers big and small embracing what makes some of their customers unique and stepping up to the plate to accommodate those differences.