LINWOOD — Brian Lopez, a stylist at Salon Kink in Central Square, was still a cosmetology student when his mother, Kim Saparito-Austin, who works in the Absecon School District, told him there might be a way he could share his skills and help families with special-needs children.
“My mom said there were some kids in the district who were on the autism spectrum and had some bad experiences when they went to get a haircut,” said Lopez. “The lights, the hairdryers, people coming in and out of the salon caused the kids to be anxious and make something as simple as getting a haircut a very difficult event.”
So Lopez volunteered in Absecon, and that familiar face and the repetition went a long way to making the children comfortable, making a previously dreaded experience quite manageable.
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"Soon after Brian left Absecon following that first haircut, the smiles, the thank-yous, the feeling of helping others was overwhelming for him. He understood he could use his talents and kind heart to make a difference for others and was then passionate about developing a plan," said Saparito-Austin.
After getting hired at Salon Kink, several clients related to Lopez the difficulty of getting haircuts for their children and grandchildren diagnosed with autism. Wanting to help, Lopez came up with Kuts for a Cause to help special-needs children and those on the autism spectrum.
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Lopez said that with the full support of the owner, Belinda Novelli, and junior stylist Sabrina Solozano, they decided to open the salon once a month on the first Tuesday, a day Salon Kink is normally closed, and book one-hour time slots for the kids so they can come in and not have the normal distractions, noise and bright lights that might cause a child on the autism spectrum to be anxious.
“I encourage parents to bring in whatever they might need to keep their son or daughter occupied while I cut their hair,” said Lopez. “The end result is that the kids are able to get a haircut without problems and without the anxiety.”
Cindy Fertsch, of Egg Harbor Township, executive director of Heart of Surfing, an organization dedicated to providing meaningful learning experiences for autistic children and their families, said speaking from firsthand experience, getting a haircut for an autistic child can seem like climbing Mt. Everest. Fertsch added she truly appreciates Lopez’s efforts.
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While Lopez said the experience is different with every child, it is always rewarding. He is reaching out and encouraging other stylists to lend their talents to help families of autistic and special-needs children in their own salons.
Lopez has expanded his effort to help special needs young clients at the Anthony J. Hair Studio in Sicklerville, Camden County, on the third Monday of the month. The stylist said 100 percent of the cost of the haircut, $28, the same as it is for any youth cut, is donated the Arc of Atlantic County.
For more information or to set up an appointment for a special-needs child, call Salon Kink at 609-788-4881 or email Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org.