For many people getting a haircut is something to look forward to. However, for nearly 14 million children the experience can be extremely painful. Two midstate barbers are living a cut above the rest.
Tucked behind a busy shopping center sits your typical barbershop, barber pole and all. Inside Timeless Barbershop, your typical kid, Hannah, was seen playing with brightly-colored blocks just before her haircut.
Suddenly the five-year-old's head dips, and she falls to the ground.
Hannah's dad Mark Myers rushed in to help his daughter, who suffers from temporary seizures. He explained she is also diagnosed with autism.
"It's tough," he said. "Yeah, every day is an experience."
For Myers and most parents with special needs children, even the simplest tasks are often difficult. Myers said he and his wife would resort to cutting Hannah's hair while she was asleep. But Myers found a place where that all changed.
"Her first haircut ever was in here," said Myers. "We're always afraid to take her some place public in case she had a temper tantrum."
That's where Julie Hammer steps in. Hammer immediately made Hannah feel welcome by complimenting her on her "princess shoes." Hammer is a skilled barber with soft scissors. Along with her husband Rich, both barbers do something special every third Sunday of the month – "Special Needs Night."
"I've had special needs children in my chair for a lot in the 11 years I've been a barber, but it doesn't really hit home until you're in that position yourself," said Julie Hammer.
This mother of two has a daughter who was actually the inspiration behind Special Needs Night at the barbershop. Now age three, Rachel was diagnosed with autism when she was 18 months old, according to Hammer.
Rich and Julie explained they spent countless hours with autism and medical specialists that helped Rachel improve her condition. Touched by the very people who helped their joyous little girl, they wanted to give back.
One night Juile threw out the idea to use their barber training and offer sensitive cuts. Rich said he immediately yelled, "That's awesome! I don't know why we didn't think of it sooner."
Julie said her experience with Rachel's needs, along with her barber education, creates a perfect combination to help others with special needs.
"I feel like I can offer that to the moms, to the dads, and to the kids," she said.
So every third Thursday of the month, Timeless BarberShop located in the High Pointe Commons Shopping Center (across from JCPenney) shuts down the shop from 5 to 7 p.m. for special needs customers only.
Rich turns shops upbeat hits music down to a softer, lower, easy listening music channel. Instead of loud buzzing of clippers, both opt for quieter shears. If needed, the Hammer's are prepared to accommodate any need.
Lisa Sell, mother of Ethan, said her son suffered from severe autism. Sell said those susceptible to sensory overload tend to be traumatized. She said for kids like her son, haircuts could even feel like torture.
"Even combing hair for a child with sensory issues can be extremely painful," Sell said. "It could feel like sharp knives across their skin."
In order to combat some of the horrific experiences, the Hammer's said they offer patience, understanding, and picked up a few unique tactics along the way.
"I will often sing a song," Julie explained. "I will count to 10."
Little things, but she said it helps kids focus on other things rather than scary scissors.
Myers said Hannah actually enjoys getting a haircut now.
"It's not serious," he said. "It's fun. It's relaxed."
Hannah finished with a smile and no tears. Definitely a result that is cherished by parents who just know.
"When there's somebody who can help you with those, it just means so much because it takes pressure off you," said Sell.
The Hammers said they don't measure their barbershop success in dollars made, but rather in smiles given.
"Ya know, they get out of the chair and they're happy and the parents are smiling and happy," said Rich. "That's perfect."
The Hammer's barbershop contact information is listed below. They said they do not charge for the first visit during Special Needs Night. Appointments or walk-ins are welcome.
Timeless BarberShop High Pointe Commons 4635 High Pointe Blvd. Harrisburg, PA 17111
Tuesday, August 19 2014 1:03 PM EDT2014-08-19 17:03:38 GMT
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