Stylist Offers Tantrum-Free Haircuts for Special Needs Kids

For a child with special needs, a haircut can be a traumatic experience.

January 21, 2015, 4:08 PM

— -- Andrew Lechtanski would throw such a major tantrum every time he had a haircut that his mother Jenn Lechtanski feared the 4-year-old would hurt himself.

“He would go berserk and he wasn’t growing out of it,” she said. “It got so bad I had to hold him down, which was very traumatic for both of us.”

The little boy from Mishawaka, Indiana, has a sensory processing disorder, which means he has trouble tolerating touch, sound and smell. To him, the feel of a brush against his scalp and the snipping sound of trimming shears was unbearable, his mother recalled.

But these days, hair trims mean smiles and giggles.

Jenn Lechtanski read an advertisement last year for Shear Sunshine, a hair styling service that specializes in dealing with special needs children, particularly those with autism and other conditions on the spectrum of neurodevelopmental disorders.

Shear Sunshine’s owner, Colleen Spano, is a licensed cosmetologist who happens to work for the Autism Society of Indiana. She also has a teenage daughter who is autistic. After years of hearing what a nightmare haircuts can be for special needs kids, she decided she would face the issue head on, one snip at a time, by starting her own hair styling business.

Rather than making children come into a shop, Spano makes house calls.

“Right away they feel more comfortable because they’re in their own environment, surrounded by familiar things,” she said.

Before each styling session, Spano emails a picture booklet for the parents and child to look through. She typically starts each appointment by chatting with her little clients and showing them her styling tools. Only when the child is relaxed does she place scissor to locks.

It appears there is a real need for Shear Sunshine’s services. Spano already has more than 30 regular clients since opening last year.

The majority of kids she works with are diagnosed with a disorder on the autism spectrum but Spano said that some of her clients are just children who are super picky about haircuts and prefer her gentler approach. The average customer’s age is around 4 years old but Spano said she also works with some special needs adults.

As for Andrew Lechtanski, the first time Spano cut his hair it took more than an hour and a half to ease him through the experience. Eventually, he was able to sit calmly in the bathtub and give his mom a squirt from a spray bottle each time she gave his head a snip.

“The last time he had his hair cut it only took 45 minutes and he was so excited because he knew he would get to squirt mommy,” his mother said. “It’s a huge relief to have this service available.”

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