How a Barber Gave My Son With Autism His First Great Barber Shop Visit

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My son, Dominic, has been to a barber shop exactly twice. The first time, my husband and I took him to the local Meijer barber shop and he gagged and cried so much, we had to leave. The second time, he bolted out of the barber shop and almost ran into the road. I’ve been cutting his hair ever since. I would have to get myself mentally “geared up” to give him his haircuts, because it would be so upsetting for the both of us. When he was small enough, I could put him in his booster seat, strap him in and cut away. Given that he is now over 120 pounds, those days are long gone.

This past Saturday, Dominic out of the blue started saying, “Haircut, barber shop, socks and shoes, car.” He probably repeated it at least half a dozen times. Every time he would say it, my response back was, “Are you sure?” I tried to explain to him that once the barber started, he would have to finish. He was extremely persistent about wanting to go. He wore me down until I finally said, “OK, fine, let’s go to the barber shop.” We actually went back to the second barber shop we had tried about nine years ago. I parked the car behind the barber shop and we walked around to the entrance. I looked inside and there was at least eight people sitting there. I told Dominic, “OK, they are way too busy. We are going to have to come back another time.”

I turned around and we started walking back toward our car. As we went past the side door of the barber shop, one of the barbers came out and approached us. I explained to him that Dominic has autism and that he had been requesting a haircut all morning. I told him, “We can just come back another time, you look really busy.” The barber then said, “Come back in, most of the people are waiting for a certain barber to cut their hair.” We came back in and Dominic and I sat down. It was quite warm in the barber shop and the longer we waited, the more anxious and sweaty I got.

I was really getting concerned because of all the noise inside the barber shop and the fact that we would have to wait. Dominic was playing with his Nintendo DS that he recently got for his birthday and he was “chill.” I was the one who was a nervous wreck! After about 15 minutes, the barber said, “Dominic, are you ready?” We both walked over to the chair and he started using scissors on his hair. I said, “Let’s try an electric pair if they aren’t too loud.”

The barber took the extra time to explain everything to Dominic during the entire haircut and Dominic trusted him 100 percent. He said things like, “OK, Dominic, now I’ll get the fuzzies around your ears.” He constantly reassured him. Dominic, like most kids, whether they have special needs or not, like predictability. I think the constant reassurance was key for him. I found out after the haircut that the barber had previous experience with children with special needs. As the barber rang us up at the register, I pulled out an extra $5 for a tip. I really wish I had more $1 bills on me! He did such a great job, don’t you think? I think the smile on Dominic’s face says it all.

I’ve had so many people tell me that Dominic’s thick hair is his “trademark.” Most people don’t realize I’ve always wanted him to have short hair, but since I’ve been cutting it and he would only sit still for a short amount of time, that has been impossible.

On the way out of the shop, the barber handed me his card. I tucked it away into my purse and didn’t pull it out again until a few days ago. The barber who cut Dominic’s hair is the owner! Awesome. We certainly won’t wait another nine years to come back.

Follow this journey on Bountiful Plate.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When My Coworker Said What I Always Wanted to Hear About My Mental Illness

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She was just as I remembered her from so long ago. I had returned to the school for children with significant special needs, the school that had given me my beloved career, when I bumped into a woman who momentarily transported me back in time. When we had first worked together, I was a volunteer and barely afloat. Having been in and out of hospitals for over a year and sick for even longer, volunteering twice a week gave me respite from myself. I was at my best there, and figured people saw me the way I felt: good.

When we first saw each other she didn’t recognize me. But the next day she said she’d been thinking about it, about me, and that it all finally clicked. 

“I hate to get personal,” she said, “but you’ve done a lot of work.” The statement could not have been more true. I have worked on getting well my entire adult life. This is work that will follow me until I die. The work will ebb and flow in its rigor, but it will always be there, an item perpetually on my to do list.

This was the first time anyone had verbally acknowledged everything I do to stay well; all the work I do on a regular basis to live my life the way I want, to not let my mental illnesses keep me from my dreams, to stay out of the darkness and to slay the demons in my head.

I’ve imagined being acknowledged in this way for years. I imagined if it ever happened, everything would change. I would feel relieved of my hidden burden. I would feel appreciated, recognized and understood. But it’s sort of like a first kiss. The idea of it becomes so grand, and after it happens you wonder why you ever thought it was a big deal. Nothing changes.

She continued and said she knew I was hurting myself over a decade ago, that I come off so differently now and that I wear my war wounds with pride. I laughed uncomfortably in response. She smiled brightly, then had to get back to work. It all whirred in my head. I could make so little sense of it all. Had she really just said that? Did that really just happen? I went to her and thanked her later with a meek smile. She told me I was “brave” that I was “an inspiration” to her.

Nothing changed. Why did nothing change? I was so sure there would be fireworks and fanfare and pomp. I thought being recognized would move mountains within me, that it would release my inner frustration at my invisible illness and remove the weight from my shoulders. Instead, I didn’t know how to feel or how I felt. I came to realize that as much as I was so deeply thankful for what she shared, I was angry, too. Angry she saw my pain and hurt in the one place I thought I was “good”; because as much as I often wish my illnesses weren’t invisible, I’m glad the rest of the world can remain blissfully unaware of the ugliness within me. That part of me is inwardly nasty, cruel, torturous, manipulative and scary, and I will protect anyone from witnessing it if I can.

I overanalyzed my feelings and I continue to do so. Still nothing has changed in the grand sense of things. The sun continues to rise and set and I continue to thirst for recognition, though maybe I’m slightly less parched than I was before.

However, one thing remains true about her incredible kindness — I feel so lucky she felt comfortable sharing that with me. What she said was a gift. It’s a perspective I’m likely never going to get again. I feel so in awe of her words of acknowledgement and recognition. We don’t do that any now. We hedge, wanting to say the right thing, not the true thing, not the meaningful thing. I think maybe we should speak up more. Because it may not change everything, but it might just change something, and that’s a gift worth giving.

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Blind Teen With Autism Blows Crowd Away With National Anthem Performance

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Christopher Duffley first sang the national anthem when he was in first grade, performing at his elementary school’s Memorial Day assembly, according to his website. In July 2011 and Sept. 2013, Duffley had the opportunity to perform the national anthem at Fenway Park. On Monday, the now 14-year-old had that chance again, and he didn’t disappoint. The teen, who’s blind and has autism, sang the national anthem for thousands of people before the Boston Red Sox played the Cleveland Indians.

Duffley didn’t speak until the first grade, but his parents then shortly discovered his perfect pitch, according to a YouTube video about Duffley’s life.

When Christopher sings ‘Open the Eyes of My Heart’ he teaches us to not see everything with our eyes,” his mother said in that YouTube video.

Duffley’s performance before Monday’s game was on behalf of Autism Speaks, according to Boston.com. He was selected as one of Autism Speaks’ “10 Amazing Individuals With Autism Who Shined In 2013.”

Watch Duffley sing an incredible rendition of the national anthem below.

h/t USA Today FTW

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5 Things I’d Tell Someone Recently Diagnosed With a Chronic Illness

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First of all, welcome to the family. Although I’m not sure of the exact path you took to become part of the “broken adrenal glands club,” I would like to extend to you the warmest welcome.

As someone who has been living with primary adrenal insufficiency (PAI) for a little bit, I would like to share five things I wish someone had told me immediately following my diagnosis:

1. It’s OK to be scared.

You have just been diagnosed with a rare disease that has no cure. The treatment also requires quite a deal of self management. It’s OK to be scared. It’s OK to feel completely overwhelmed. It’s not OK to panic. As hard as it may sound, try to view this diagnosis as a gift. With a name, there is knowledge. With knowledge, there is treatment. With treatment, there is life. Focus on the fact that you’re alive.

Amber Nicole the mighty.1-001
The doctor’s original notes as he explained the adrenal glands to Amber Nicole and her mom during her initial diagnosis in May 2005.

2. You will probably gain weight.

Please don’t ever try to manipulate your medicine just so you can drop a few pounds. This weight gain is good. Yes, you will now need to focus more on a healthy life style. But please don’t ever view the steroids you take as the enemy. These steroids give you life. A larger number on the scale is well worth the price of remaining alive.

Amber Nicole’s cat standing on six pairs of pants that no longer fit her due to weight gain.
Amber Nicole’s cat standing on six pairs of pants that no longer fit her due to weight gain.

3. Your social group will change.

Yes, you will probably lose “friends.” Yes, it will appear as if your social circle is drastically diminished. It’s OK to let them go. Those that stick by your side during this journey are worth so much more. It’s much better to have a smaller group of people who are unbelievably understanding and loyal than a larger group of people who abandon you during your time of greatest need.

Amber Nicole celebrated her birthday with friends and Big Tex in 2014.
Amber Nicole celebrated her birthday with friends and Big Tex in 2014.

4. You’re not a failure.

One of the first things your doctor might have told you is that it’s still possible to live a “normal life,” whatever that means. They may explain that if you just take your medicine as prescribed, your disease will be well managed. Well, flares still happen, and sometimes they’re completely out of your control. Forgive yourself. Every hospital visit, every ER run, every sickness and every stress dose provides an opportunity for you to learn and adapt so you’ll be better prepared for the next adventure.

An adrenal crisis triggered by food poisoning in August 2014.
An adrenal crisis triggered by food poisoning in August 2014.

5. You’re not alone.

Yes, you have just been diagnosed with a rare disease that even the experts don’t fully understand. However, it doesn’t mean you’re alone in this journey. Reach out to others who have walked a similar path. If you don’t know where to start, reach out to me. I can link you up with several different networks. Lean on us for support. Don’t further isolate yourself.

An adrenal insufficiency meet up from January 2014.
An adrenal insufficiency meet up from January 2014.

And again, welcome to the family. Let us continue to work together so that we can remain Clearly Alive.

Amber Nicole and her husband at her Decade of Diagnosis celebration.
Amber Nicole and her husband at her Decade of Diagnosis celebration.

Follow this journey on Clearly Alive.

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5 Reasons Why Being in Therapy Makes You a Badass

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This summer, during an 8-week outpatient program, I was required to participate in group therapy sessions twice a week. For me, group therapy was a combination of two things that make me anxious: sharing my feelings and people. Once during the session, I equated group therapy to waiting in line for the guillotine. Sharing your issues with a group of people you barely know while two psychologists take notes isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do.

One does not simply

That’s when I started to realize it — being in therapy takes guts. For those of us in therapy, I don’t think we acknowledge how brave we are for baring our souls to individuals who are essentially complete strangers.

Here are five reasons I think being in therapy takes courage.

1.  You’re asking for help.

Why U No This may not seem like a big deal, but for a person like me who’s extremely independent and doesn’t want to burden anyone, asking for help is extremely difficult. For so long I’ve had the deluded idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness, but I’m slowly learning it’s a sign of strength. It takes courage to ask for help when you’re feeling vulnerable.

2. You’re admitting you have a problem.

Grumpy Cat

By admitting you’re struggling, you’re making the problem real. Often admitting there’s something wrong in your life or in your behavior means getting over yourself. Letting go of your ego isn’t an easy thing to do.

3. You’re being vulnerable to a stranger.

Willy Wonka

I have major trust issues. There are very few people I trust enough to open up to, and they’re mostly in my immediate family. I have been betrayed by people close to me so many times in my life, I’ve developed a fear of sharing my feelings.

Opening up in therapy means getting over yourself and the fear of judgment. Speaking to a therapist, especially in the first few sessions, means exposing yourself to a complete stranger. Despite knowing about client confidentiality, I often wonder if the therapist talks about me to other people. I wonder if they think I’m crazy, or worse I wonder if they believe me.

4. You’re confronting your issues.

Prepare Yourself

Maybe you have problematic behavior that’s hard to come to terms with. Maybe you don’t want to admit to yourself you have a problem, let alone to a stranger with a notepad.

But more often than not, therapy sessions require you to rehash a hurtful past, and this often drudges up feelings you might have long buried. I often dread going to therapy because I know I’ll be emotionally drained by the end of the session.

5. You’re trying to change. Not sure if

Change is scary, especially if you’ve behaved a certain way your entire life. You’ve adopted coping skills that have helped in times of extreme stress or danger, and maybe those skills are no longer necessary. For me, I’m trying to work on my trust issues, assertiveness and perfectionism. These coping mechanisms have worked to protect me in the past, but now they’re interfering my life. Addressing these issues are hard and changing them is even more difficult.

So if you’re in therapy right now, I commend you. You are a badass.

This post was previously published on Mad Girl’s Lament.

 

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The Reason This Brave Woman Stripped in Public and Asked Strangers to Draw on Her

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Jae West stood in one of London’s biggest tourist areas armed with pens, a white board and a blindfold. The one thing she didn’t have? Her clothes.

West slipped off her dress, propped up her whiteboard on her shins and wrapped her blindfold around her eyes. She stood in Piccadilly Circus in only her bra and underwear with a sign that read, “I’m standing for anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder or self-esteem issue like me…to support self-acceptance draw a (heart) on my body.”

I was scared that no one was going to draw a love heart on my body and I was going to be left out there in the open in my underwear on show to be ridiculed,” West wrote in a post for Inspiralight, a blog that focuses on inspiring stories, adventures and social experiments.

West’s fears were calmed when one pen slid out of her grasp, and she began crying as a stranger drew the first heart on her body. While the whole experience was moving for West, she says her heart was touched when she heard a father explaining the project to his kids, telling them to appreciate the bodies they were given.

“If everyone could know and appreciate how beautiful they are from childhood I think this world would be a very different place,” West wrote.

The idea for this social experiment came from Amanda Palmer’s TED talk, “The Art of Asking,” where the singer-songwriting describes stripping down and letting fans write anything on her body. Inspired, West wanted to combine the vulnerability of nudity with self-esteem issues in a public place, and raise awareness for an issue that crosses all borders. Eating disorders affect about 70 million individuals worldwide, according to The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders

“I knew this was a global concept that many people could relate to, so putting myself in that situation really was a stand for everyone out there that has been confronted with self-doubt in relation to the way they look,” West wrote.

You can watch the experiment below.

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