This Barber Soothes A Child With Autism By Singing And Finds New Purpose

March 31, 2018
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For Jordie Rowland, clippers buzzing, scissors clinking, men talking loudly in the talcum-scented air is an assault on the senses. 

Jordie has autism and his cries pierced through the other noises in the Brisbane, Australia, barbershop.

“You could hear his distress before you saw him,” barber Lisa Ann McKenzie told CNN.

Then, after two hard years of trying, the child who couldn’t sit through a haircut calmed down when the barber sang his favorite song — “The Wheels on the Bus.”

With that breakthrough, McKenzie emerged with a new purpose: a day at her shop reserved just for kids with special needs.

Jordie has a severe form of autism. He is nonverbal and prone to sensory overload.

“At the very start, we would be lucky to get a half haircut done,” McKenzie said.

She felt helpless against a condition she didn’t understand.

“It was so disheartening. It was just pulling my heart out,” she said.

McKenzie, a Mom of four, read up on sensory sensitivity and autism. She learned how important routine is for many people with autism and she set up a plan. 

A new shop, a big change…

Three weeks later, the persistent barber opened her very own barber shop with plans for Jordie to be one of her first clients.

She says the first time that he arrived, she allowed him to walk around and explore, which made him more comfortable.

This time when Jordie approached his haircut, he was calmer.

“We got three-quarters of the way through,” McKenzie said.

One day as McKenzie attempted to cut Jordie’s hair, she sensed he was becoming anxious. Without thinking, she then started singing, “The Wheels on the Bus.”

“I sing to all the kids when using the clippers so the noise of the clippers doesn’t scare them,” McKenzie said.

But she had never sang that song to Jordie.

“He looked straight at me. It’s hard to describe but I felt like my heart exploded,” she said.

Jordie allowed her to finish the haircut, complete with styling gel.

I even got a big hug.”

That day McKenzie left her shop with a new goal: to make families like the Rowlands feel safe and understood.

She has been a great support to us in our journey with his haircuts,” Jordie’s mother said to CNN.

One Sunday a month, McKenzie offers “Sensory Sensitive Sunday Sessions” for children with special needs.

“You don’t have to force the customers to sit in the chair — it doesn’t matter,” McKenzie said.

She, and the 5 other barbers in her shop, are willing to cut hair on the floor or while the child is playing with toys.

She encourages barbers to make a connection with their clients before they begin the cut.

“The haircut will get better once the connection is stronger,” McKenzie said.

Some of McKenzie’s customers travel hours to experience her special touch.

The barber, who’s also known as the “child whisperer,” tries to make every 1 of them feel at home.

We are a family,” she said.

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