For many people on the autism spectrum, going to get a hair cut can be a long and arduous process. From the lights to the sounds to the tactile sensitivities, there are many different things which can make a person avoid getting a haircut.
Many parents are faced with cutting their children’s hair at home rather than going to a standard salon and being faced with stylists who don’t understand the individual needs of the child. Too many parents have had to experience rude stares while trying to support their child through a meltdown just getting a simple haircut.
Amy Mullins-Hill wanted to change the experience of people with special needs when they were getting haircuts. With a passion of helping the special needs community since the age of 17, Amy knew her place was helping improve their lives in her own special way. With 18 years of hair styling experience, she starting by planning out what her ideal salon would look like. Almost 6 years of planning has lead up to the tHAIRapy Family Salon in San Diego, California.
tHAIRapy salon is unlike many other salons as it is designed with accommodations for the clients with sensory needs. Even before a child with sensory needs gets a haircut, the environment is very relaxing. One of the areas in the salon has a wall of sensory toys and different tactiles children can play with. Amy is also the only stylist so clients do not need to worry about excess noise from other people getting haircuts. When a new client arrives, a full hour is scheduled so new clients can begin to feel comfortable in the space and any specific concerns can be addressed. Amy also encourages parents to make this the child’s ABA session for the day.
When a hair-cutting session begins, Amy works to keep everyone as relaxed as possible. She incorporates vibrating toys to gauge a child’s reaction and their ability to trust. Every step of the way she communicates to the clients to let them know exactly what is going on, reducing their anxiety.
There is also a special helper named Dusty that can also be a helpful assistant. Dusty is a specially trained service dog helping people feel more relaxed in the salon. Some children have the dog sit in their lap while getting their hair cut. This deep pressure helps regulation so even when they are anxious, children don’t go straight into a meltdown. Other people just find it helpful to just pet the service dog after they have been having a stressful day. Either way, Dusty is a vital part of the therapeutic experience.
One of the greatest things Amy does to prevent escalation and meltdowns is by having a calm environment where everyone feels safe. Unlike other places where a stylist may not understand a child’s needs, everyone who walks into the salon is treated as a part of her family. When looking on the tHAIRapy page at the reviews, it is obvious the work she does affects so many people. Parents who say their child have had bad experiences with haircuts have raved about how wonderful Amy is with their children. When most people reflect back on their experience at her salon, “Amazing” the the word popping up.
For more information please visit her website at http://www.thairapyhairsalon.com/index.html