Evan O’Dwyer, 16, who has severe autism, has been getting his hair cut by the same barber — a man named Donncha O’Connell at the Baldy Barber in Blackpool, Ireland — for 14 years. But when Evan and his mom, Deirdre O’Dwyer, went into the barbershop for a haircut on May 29, things quickly went south.
“Evan is 16 and is nonverbal and severe on the autism spectrum,” Evan’s mom tells Yahoo Beauty. “He [has been] going to Donncha for the last 14 years but had issues on Monday, so he wasn’t going to sit in the barber’s chair and was getting very anxious and agitated. The haircut had started, so we had to finish it.”
Deirdre explains that Evan is happiest in the car — she calls it his “happy place,” according to Ireland AM. “So Donncha suggested, ‘Why not do the haircut there, and at least Evan would be more relaxed?’” the mom tells Yahoo Beauty. “And his big brother Dylan was helping by reassuring him and coaxing him.”
Evan, his brother, and O’Connell all climbed into the family car to finish Evan’s haircut. “He had his haircut, and he was fine and happy,” says Deirdre, who decided to share the kind encounter on Facebook.
The story, which was also posted on Ireland AM’s Facebook page, has gone viral, with nearly 8,000 reactions. “I never expected this, but I’m so happy it’s raising awareness,” Deirdre says. “The reason I shared it was because our lives are challenging every day, and just that one kind and simple gesture made my little boy’s life so much easier, and we avoided a meltdown.”
She adds: “We hear about horrible stories every day, and I just wanted to share that we have unsung heroes in our community. I never believed it would get this reaction, but with the amount of parents who have contacted me to thank me for sharing and raising [awareness], I feel I’m doing a little to help others in our situation.”
The story clearly has struck a chord with many, including Facebook user and hairdresser Karen Reilly, who wrote: “If you love your job as a barber/hairdresser (as I do) … you will do whatever you have to do to make a client comfortable. If you have a client with special needs … anxiety … or any other disability, you will (I would) go out of my way to make them at ease. This is a super job. Well done.”
Another user, Laura Driver Franey, who is a mom of a child with autism, related to the O’Dywers’s situation: “I love to hear stories like this as it’s just so difficult for a child on the spectrum to have a haircut. Thankfully we found an amazing barber like these lads who is amazing with my son who also has autism. [The barber] comes out to the house as we can’t get [my son] into the shop. He found it very difficult at the start … a nightmare to be honest. We had to wrap him in a duvet to cut it for months, and it broke our hearts. And then we met Mick the barber, who is amazing… For the first time in 9 years on his last haircut my son sat by himself and never flinched … It’s amazing when u come across [an] amazing barber like this. We would be lost without him, and he told us that’s what makes his job worthwhile, seeing what he can do to help a child with [autism].”
This isn’t the first time a hairdresser has gone above and beyond to help a client with autism. In December 2016, a hairstylist got down on the floor to cut the hair of a 4-year-old with autism. The mom, Jennifer McCafferty, shared the kind gesture on Facebook.
“This woman, Kaylen, at Sports Clips in Charleston did more for my heart than she will probably ever realize,” McCafferty wrote in her post. “Haircuts with Isaiah are no small feat. He hates having anything near his ears, the sound of clippers sends him in to a tailspin … this evening was no different. I was ready to give up, but she wasn’t. She sat on the floor with my baby in her lap, and she cut his hair. They talked about Dory and Christmas, and she even let him spray her with her water bottle. Autism can be so very, very hard, but people like this make our days just a little easier.”
Read more from Yahoo Beauty + Style: