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A boy on the autism spectrum struggled with a haircut. His barber saved the day

Jackson and his barber, Ree.
LaQuista Erinna
Jackson and his barber, Ree.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team, about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.


A few years ago, LaQuista Erinna's seven-year-old son, Jackson, was diagnosed with autism.

This wasn't a surprise; ever since he was a baby, Erinna had noticed Jackson was sensitive to everyday things — textures in his clothes, light touches and loud sounds. But one of the most difficult things was getting a haircut. He'd get so anxious that he'd start kicking and screaming. It was really hard for Erinna to watch, so she decided to stop taking him to the barber.

"We went almost two years with no haircuts. People [would make] comments, 'You need to get his hair cut. Why [does] your hair look like that?'" Erinna remembered. "It was really emotional for me. I'm trying to protect my baby, but I just had to develop some tough skin."

Eventually, Erinna found a barber named Ree. For the past few years, Ree has been able to take things slowly with Jackson and learned how to stave off his meltdowns. But one day in early 2022, things went awry.

"We got caught in traffic. He left his headphones. We hadn't had lunch. It was just like a series of unfortunate events," Erinna said.

Jackson didn't want to get in the barber chair. This wasn't unusual; it typically took a bit of convincing to get him to sit down. But on this day, he flat-out refused.

"She tried to put the cape on him and he just had a fit," Erinna said.

Jackson started running around the shop. Erinna was about to give up and call it a day. But Ree encouraged her to give it a few more minutes.

"I'm like, 'She's not going to be able to cut his hair. I'm going to give it five minutes. We're going to go get something to eat and go home,'" Erinna said.

"Well, next thing you know I'm looking and she's cutting his hair."

Ree had made the haircut into a game. She would shave a little hair off Jackson's head, he would wipe it off and then run to a new spot in the shop.

"He doesn't like the hair to get on him ... so it was a good distraction for him. And she was able to kind of cut his hair," Erinna said.

When the haircut was complete, Jackson was smiling and happy.

"He was like, 'Well, can we go back tomorrow and play the game?'" Erinna said.

It meant a lot to Erinna that Ree took the time to figure out a way to give Jackson a haircut that day.

"She's been cutting his hair for some time, but just the patience and care that she took with him – 'cause most people, they get frustrated. They don't necessarily want to deal with your kid when they're having a tantrum or having a bad day ... It meant the absolute world for me to be able to trust her and be like, 'OK, I know she's going to take care of my son and make sure he's looking the best.' You can't ask for anything more than that," Erinna said.

Erinna took a video of Ree that day, calming Jackson down with the haircutting game, and posted it on social media. The clip quickly went viral.

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Autumn Barnes
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