I had the privilege last Friday to participate in an event called Ignite Michiana. For those of you not familiar with the Ignite concept, it is an evening of presenters who are given 5 minutes to give a presentation (20 Powerpoint slides that advance every 15 seconds) on a topic they are passionate about. I spoke about sensory issues, and how difficult it is for a lot of kiddos with autism to get haircuts. Because of that, I have started a home-based hair cutting service, which you can learn about in my talk:
The Lights Are Too Loud
Hi, I'm Colleen Spano, and I have a question for you...can you smell the river from across the street? How do you feel about the person bouncing their leg 5 rows back? Most of us don’t notice these things, but about 1 in every 50 of the residents of South Bend find those things I mentioned to be all consuming. That’s because they are on the autism spectrum.
Part of the diagnosis for being on the autism spectrum is that some, if not all, of your senses are not processed in your brain in a functional way.
That makes the world an even more difficult place to navigate than it is for a typical person. Background noise can sound louder than an airplane, the gentlest touch can feel like you are being pinched.
What does that 1 in 50 mean for all of you? It means that if you walk out your door in the morning, you will encounter someone on the spectrum every day. As business owners (and frankly, as fellow human beings) we need to consider our diverse population when planning our business space and approach.
For some businesses, however, it is very difficult to make many changes just due to the nature of the business. Like hair salons, for example. These are not quiet, calm, smell-free, touch-free environments!! So people with sensory processing issues often find getting a haircut to be tremendously over-stimulating and exhausting. All those nasty smells, big sounds, strange clothing and strange/new people…it can be way too much!
My solution? I created Shear Sunshine, a home-based sensory friendly hair cutting service. I come to the clients’ homes, where they are most comfortable, and hope to make the hair cutting process a fun experience, something they grow to look forward to.
That isn’t as simple as it sounds, believe it or not! I had to take the lessons I learned in my years of parenting (and yes, one of my children does have autism), my many years as an educator, a cosmetology degree, and the countless mistakes and successes I’ve had working with children with disabilities, blend all of that together to develop a pretty awesome plan of action for fabulous haircuts!
The plan is very individualized to each client but always starts with a short parent interview over the phone. During the interview I want to learn what their concerns are, what may have led them to use my services in the first place. I also try to learn some of the strategies and tricks they use at home that help their child feel calm and less stressed. That way I can tailor my session to include things the child responds to well while staying away from things that might upset them.
Next I email the family a Social Story to read with the child for the week or two before I come to visit. A Social Story is a tool used to explain to the child who I am, what things I will have with me, what I will be doing while I’m at their home, and most importantly what the expectations will be of them.
One of the most difficult things for people with ASD/SPD is any change in their routine. If you surprise them with anything “spur of the moment,” you will likely see some explosive behaviors!
*This* (photo slide of a child being restrained) is a child being held down by about 3 adults just to get a haircut. Its an all too frequent occurrence in the lives of kiddos with ASD/SPD. I go to great lengths to make sure it will NEVER happen during one of my haircuts. I strongly believe that having the Social Story to familiarize them with me is key in making the whole experience a positive one. And by coming to their space that begins our relationship on such a promising note.
Once I arrive at the house we take time to get to know each other (they share toys, I share toys, they get to look at my tools, that sort of thing…). After a few minutes we set up the work space and talk about everything that is going to happen while I am there…kind of review the Social Story.
And then we get to hair cutting! It is very important to me to create an air of mutual respect between children and myself, so I try really hard to hear what the children are saying and to oblige as often as possible. If they don’t want to wear the cape, that's ok. If they need to sit on mommy’s lap, we will do that! If they ask me to put away the clippers, I will. That can mean that a haircut takes 2 hours, or even 2 visits. Whatever we need to do to make one less thing in their lives stressful, that’s my goal. Because I believe every child deserves the chance to shine.
Colleen writes with the real-life experience of raising three children as a single mom, one of whom happens to have autism. With too much on her plate, humor is Colleen's survival technique, often to the horror of her children! Welcome to the Land of Sunshine!
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