Sunday 19 November 2017

This Cork barber went the extra mile to help one of his regular customers who has autism

Donncha O’Connell with Dylan and Evan O'Dwyer
Donncha O’Connell with Dylan and Evan O'Dwyer

Sasha Brady

Barber Donncha O'Connell took it all in his stride when one of his regular customers refused to get his hair cut in the shop.

For people with autism, sitting in a char to have a haircut can be a painful and uncomfortable experience because of the sensory challenges associated with the condition.

Evan O'Dwyer is a regular customer of The Baldy Barber in Blackpool, Cork. The 16-year-old has severe autism and is non-verbal.

He's been visiting the shop with his mother Deirdre for 14 years but she explained that "getting a haircut is tough".

Speaking to the The Neil Prendeville Show on Cork’s Red FM, she said: "Evan for the last 14 years has gone to the same place. I just found that there was something about [Donncha]. He's so laidback. He's so good."

But Deirdre said that bringing her son to the barbershop is a two-person job and it all depends on Evan's mood.

Yesterday, at the last minute, she decided to bring him in alone.

"At the moment it would take two of us to bring him but I finished work yesterday and I said 'we'll go and get the haircut' and he was grand going in."

Donncha O'Donnell from The Baldy Barber with Dylan and Evan
Donncha O'Donnell from The Baldy Barber with Dylan and Evan

But as soon as he sat in the chair, Evan decided that he wanted to leave, just as Donncha had gone over his hair with the razorblade.

"He decided he wanted to leave. He was at the scissors and ready to do destruction," his mother said.

With the help of Donncha and his brother Dylan, they brought Evan to the car as it's the one place he feels at ease.

"Calmly as we could we got him into the car and Donncha said "look, I'll do his hair in the car" so he jumped in to the back seat, with Dylan holding Evan's hand and worked there," said Deirdre.

"He then had to jump around to the other side to get to the other side of his head. No bother to him."

For Donncha, it wasn't a big deal and he was happy to accommodate his customer whatever way he could.

"I've never cut anyone's hair in the back of the car," he said.

"Look, it's not a huge deal. Obviously it's a big thing for Deirdre. You do what you have to do.

"Evan can decide where and when he wants to get his hair done but we go with it.

"We do have a few with special needs coming in. You take your time. Kids in general, I find that if you're relaxed around them then they generally don't have an issue," said Donncha.

For Deirdre, the car is where Evan is happy to eat, get dressed and now, to get his haircut.

"I got a new car last July and there's 46,852km on my car. We do that much driving with him. It soothes him. It prevents a meltdown. If Evan is happy, we have a happy household," she explained.

"There's no point sugarcoating it. He is severe. He has other issues. He is hard work but at the end of the day, he'll give you that smile and he'll melt your heart and it's all worth it."

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