Haircuts can be frightening for a child with special needs such as Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, resulting in a traumatic experience for both children and their parents. That’s why Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids, located at 3520 Avalon Park East Blvd. in Orlando, is in the process of training all of its stylists to cut hair for children with various needs.
According to www.AutismSpeaks.org, the challenges of haircuts for children with Autism can range from sensory issues as the hair touches their face to severe anxiety attacks about what will happen during the haircutting process.
The owner of Sharkey’s, Lee Lively-Garcia, says there are a lot of different techniques that stylists can use to help the child through a haircut. “It can be as simple as holding a towel over their face while they’re getting the haircuts, so it doesn’t actually touch their face as its coming down,” she says. “It can also be sitting there and distracting them while the stylist does their job.”
Although the staff has not been trained yet, all employees have read a hard-copy instruction booklet from the Autism Society that is used strictly for stylists on handling special needs cases. Lively-Garcia’s husband and co-owner of Sharkey’s, Mark Garcia, says they have also been fortunate to have several parents of autistic children bring their instructors with them to help the salon through the process.
Garcia and Lively-Garcia decided to have their staff trained in this area because of their personal relationship to those dealing with special needs; it was not a requirement by the Sharkey’s franchise. Lively-Garcia says they have many friends with autistic children and they have seen the horrors first-hand that those families have gone through at other haircutting businesses. “We’ve had parents who have been thrown out of salons before and it’s just not right,” she says.
She advises parents to seek out salons with a lot of patience. She says, “You can’t go somewhere that is going to say you have a half-hour appointment and that’s it.” She says Sharkey’s doesn’t quit cutting, no matter how restless the child, unless the parent doesn’t want to continue with the appointment any longer.
“We will cater to the parent if they are unsure or if it is their first time,” says Garcia. “We will open early, let the child become comfortable with the surroundings and then cut his or her hair before we even open.”
Sharkey’s is also unique by being one of the only salons in a 50-mile radius that specializes in just children’s services. With brightly colored walls, a glamour station, XBOX and Nintendo games galore, energetic music and car-shaped chairs, children of all ages will think of a trip to the salon as a fun and exciting party. “We have the glamour area to make girls feel like a star and TVs and DVDs to keep the kids entertained and distracted while they’re getting their haircuts,” says Lively-Garcia.
This salon also knows the importance of a child’s first haircut. The stylists take a photograph and fill out a certificate for this special occasion and will even email the photo to a relative. Sharkey’s also hosts hour-and-a-half long Glamour Girl parties where girls can get their hair and nails done, play dress up and have a fashion show for their parents. Lively-Garcia says the salon is like the Disney of haircut places and asking the kids to come back will never be a problem. “If they’ve ever had struggles with a haircut before, they won’t after they’ve been here,” she says.
Whether it is commemorating a first-time cut, celebrating a birthday or caring for a child with special needs, Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids makes the experience pleasant for parents and fun for children.
Article by Nikki Stephens