A member of the SalonCentric It Takes A Pro Team and an Andis Global Educator, Brea Retic is an Atlanta-based barber that started A Different Cut in 2018. With the increase of autism and kids on the spectrum, and experiencing it first hand with clients and hearing stories from parents, Retic saw the need for creating a safe, positive and comfortable space for autistic children to get a haircut.
She says, “We did quarterly pop-up events to provide haircuts in a thoughtful, sensory sensitive environment specifically for children and young adults on the spectrum. We had a nurse that came on site with us to educate other hair professionals about clients on the spectrum and how to adapt their chair and routine to accommodate sensory sensitive clients. It’s about creating a great experience, not completing a perfect cut. Covid put a lull in our outreach, but we’re looking to launch again soon.”
Retic offers tips on how to proceed with servicing clients on the spectrum. “Having patience and being in a centered frame of mind is first and foremost,” she says.
“Don’t wear anything of value as you don’t know how your client may react. We control the environment by turning off the television, playing soft music or no music. Offer them an iPad so they feel comfortable selecting their own music or program to watch. This is easy to do in a salon suite, but in a busy shop choose a specific time just for these clients.”
For some sensory sensitive clients, the noise of a clipper can be very scary. Try to desensitize them by letting them turn the machine on and off. Let them hold it. Let them feel the machine vibration without cutting any hair. Some barbers have posted videos online where they make a game of the haircut by singing a song and cutting as they're singing. Some will cut their client wherever the client feels comfortable sitting—on the floor, in the waiting room.
Retic has a routine with touch sensitive individuals: she starts the touch minimally with a comb or brush on the arm, working to the shoulder, then hair. She works at the pace of their comfortability.
“I have them hold the comb and act as my assistant to give it to me when I need it,” she says. “If they don’t want to wear the cape, that’s fine. I’ve used just shears because they didn't like the noise and vibration of the clipper. I explain to them what to expect and I ask if they’ll be okay with what I plan on doing.”
She reiterates “We never want to overwhelm the client, so the main goal is to provide a positive experience, not the perfect cut; and to train other hair professionals on how to feel more comfortable and make parents and children comfortable when cutting children on the spectrum.”