Updated March 13, 2018 17:01:03
Video: Jordie Rowland lets Lisa-Ann McKenzie cut his hair (ABC News) Related Story: Sailing club shifts culture to embrace inclusion Related Story: ‘It’s bullying’: Anonymous letter threatens to call council on teen with autism
It took nearly two years for Jordie Rowland to sit through a haircut to completion.
While it may seem like such a simple task to many, for children with autism like 12-year-old Jordie, the mix of the unknown, the lack of control, and the sensory overload, can be quite terrifying.
For years he was unable to make it through a full haircut — with attempts being abandoned halfway through because it all became too much for him.
Barber Lisa-Ann McKenzie, based in Rothwell to the north of Brisbane, has been working with Jordie and his family on a routine basis for nearly two years, slowly building up a bond.
In the past couple of months they finally had a breakthrough.
A video of Jordie’s latest haircut, the third Ms McKenzie’s been able to complete, was uploaded to Celtic Barber’s Facebook page on Saturday morning.
Since then it has been viewed more than 41,700 times, and shared by more than 670 people.
Ms McKenzie said it was a big difference from the first haircut she gave Jordie, who is also non-verbal, nearly two years ago.
“There were four people holding him down. He was just so hard to connect with. He just had this absolute fear, like real terror,” she said.
“That was so stressful, I think we all wanted to burst into tears afterwards.
“Everything about a haircut is pain to them, and fear. It’s complete sensory overload between being touched and an environment with a lot of people around, you’re in their space, the buzzing and noise of the clippers.”
Photo: Jordie, who has autism, getting a haircut with family helping him stay calm in 2016. (Supplied)
But over the past two years they worked together to help make the experience easier for him to handle.
Jordie’s parents began by only bringing him in at the end of the work day, when no-one else was around.
They also increased the consistency of visits to fortnightly.
“It started to improve with that consistency and other people not being around. I still talk to him and he recognises me. I was trying lots of things,” Ms McKenzie said.
Photo: Lisa-Ann McKenzie and Jordie briefly hold hands during the video. (Supplied: Celtic Barber Rothwell Central)
She said they had a big breakthrough just a couple of weeks ago.
“I just started singing to him. He has an iPad and when he’s stressed his parents put on ‘Wheels on the Bus’, he’ll watch 40 clips in a row,” Ms McKenzie said.
“That was a huge breakthrough. He was even reactant to me, when I say ‘horn on the bus goes beep beep beep’, he pushed on my hand to showed me he understands.
“That was unbelievable, for an autistic kid even to touch you, never mind let you touch them, is huge.
“I was on top of the world, and so where his parents.
“It was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life. He just connected, in that moment with me and it was just beautiful.”
‘You’d get him on the chair and he’d have a meltdown’
Ms McKenzie is now opening up her store one Sunday a month for appointments for children with autism.
“Some parents told they were asked not to come back by other barbers and hair salons … because of the way the child was. That just shames me about my trade,” Ms McKenzie said.
“The barber shop is a family where I come from. You take an interest in people, you build up relationships that last generations. That’s barber shop tradition.”
Photo: Jordie’s latest haircut was a success, Ms McKenzie said. (Supplied: Celtic Barber Rothwell Central)
Jordie’s father Bruce Rowland said it would be a huge relief to other parents with children with autism.
“To be available to help parents that go through the trauma of giving a child a haircut is quite remarkable,” he said.
“It’s probably not understood by the general public, the trauma this is, especially if you’re in a barber shop full of people and the child is having a meltdown.”
He said prior to visiting Ms McKenzie, they tried their best to get Jordie’s hair cut at other barber shops.
“It was just matter of me holding him in the chair in a bearhug basically, doing the best you could.
“Sometimes you’d even abort it, you wouldn’t even try.
“You’d get him on the chair and he’d have a meltdown.”
‘It can take months to get that first snip of hair’
The reaction to the video has been overwhelming positive, with other parents with autistic children sharing their experiences.
“I would love my son to be able to have a calm haircut like this,” one woman wrote.
“We were asked to leave by the last barber we went to after going there for a year.”
Another said she cried when her son finally got his hair cut at about six years of age.
“We would walk into the barber nearly every week. Sometimes he would back straight out, sometimes we would wait, then he would refuse when it was his turn,” he said.
“I’ve had him on my lap, with no cape screaming blue murder.”
Autism Awareness Australia CEO Nicole Rogerson said it was lovely to see someone go the extra step to accommodate a child with autism.
“Getting a haircut is often a really big challenge for a lot of children and young adults with autism, it’s quite a sensory overload for them,” she said.
“But to break it down into steps or a process they’re able to cope with is a really wonderful accommodation to make.”
Ms Rogerson said haircuts were not a struggle for all children with autism.
External Link: Celtic Barber Rothwell Central on Facebook: Jordie’s haircut
“Autism is such a huge spectrum, so what’s a challenge for some children is not necessary a challenge for another,” she said.
“But we do find things like getting a haircut, going to the dentist, getting a blood test, they’re all fairly common for kids with autism to have a struggle with.”
Ms Rogerson said understanding what it is that the child is finding difficult could help.
“It’s a slow process. We have a lot of kids who take months in order to be able to be even get a first snip of the hair,” she said.
“It can be a time-consuming process, but others will pick it up quickly, but just getting to know your clients, understand the challenge for them, them slowly but surely work with their family to overcome it and it’ll be a huge benefit for both the child and the family.”
Topics: health, diseases-and-disorders, autism-spectrum-disorder, human-interest, rothwell-4022, brisbane-4000, qld
First posted March 13, 2018 16:57:24