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A refund should not hurt that much

As a parent of a child with special needs, I know that fighting depression is a constant battle.

I am also aware I must be constantly on guard with myself, as it is easy to harm the child amidst the ongoing struggle with anger and frustration.

My son, Jayden, was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. I had sensed his problem and brought him for an assessment, because he did not respond to instructions, was prone to sudden and strong temper tantrums, and was not learning to talk properly.

Now at the age of five, his speech has improved greatly, but he can still become extremely frustrated and difficult to control when he is forced to do something he does not like, like going home after a fun outing or getting out of the swimming pool.

But when it comes to the dentist or a haircut, his body language says it all; he is just not for it.

Every haircut is a nightmare. He screams and kicks hard. But he can be calmed with candy, soft drinks and an iPad—if I am lucky!

On the hottest day of summer, I thought Jayden may feel better with freshly cut, short hair, so I decided to try my luck and risk the necessary evil.

I used to patronise the corner shop, but the barber who pads around in slippers and shorts considers him to be a naughty child who needs a good hiding.

So he would yell at him, hit him lightly on the leg and threaten to call the police when he kicked him.

I could not blame him for being a bit rude, as my son really kicked him hard. When we left the shop, he used to remind us that a good hiding is sometimes necessary.

But after our family moved to downtown Ma On Shan, we could not find a neighbourhood barber like him.

I chose a shop with a name ending in “10,” which brags about a 10-minute haircut. I thought a quick pair of hands would be the key to the cut so I dragged Jayden in.

We had to wait 15 minutes. During that time my son repeated his worries. “I am not cutting my hair,” he said more than five times, while playing with my iPhone.

When Jayden’s turn came, the stylist instructed him to sit in a high chair. But he yelled and kicked. I showed him a toy train which I had promised to give him if he had his cut.

The stylist, sensing that he was not the usual 10-minute $60 client did not waste any time. Within 10 seconds, he bluntly said he would not do it and gave me my money back.

Normally I welcome a refund, but this particular one hurt me deeply.

I left angry, but I know I cannot ask every stylist to try, especially one without a heart for the profession.

I dragged Jayden to a second shop where there was an even longer queue waiting and then to a third one, where a smiling and gentle man would not even dare touch his hair.

I went home desperate. I not only thought about his hair and the difficulty in finding a barber, but my son’s future and finding acceptance in society.

Jayden then asked for the toy train from my handbag, which reminded me of my stupidity in showing it to him in the first place.

Out of anger and desperation, I took out a pair of children’s hair clippers, which I had prepared in case of the worst scenario, and dragged him to the bathroom. I did it quickly, even though he struggled hard.

I stopped abruptly when I saw his scalp appear and remembered I forgot to put on the adjustable comb.

The result of my frustration and impulsive reaction is still visible, as there are two bald stripes on his head. I cried the tears of guilt for my impulsive act.

When I calmed down, I thought that like many parents of special needs children, I had too easily allowed a behavioural problem to drive me to frustration and did not think.

Haircut phobia is common among autistic children. They can be sensitive to the buzz of the electric clippers, irritated by the falling hair and, fear the sharp blade.

While therapists and specialists tend to set a goal and treatment timetable in dealing with problems, I think parents of a special needs child can hardly be expected to be so calm.

They are the ones who need to face the real situation in the barber shop where the therapy does not work so well.

Parents tend to look at the problems with a heavy heart, instead of calmly dealing with a behavioural issue.

While this is what we really should do, we tend to paint a bigger, gloomier picture, and worry how the child can survive or if he will be bullied in the future.

This gloomy picture has, in fact, always been in our mind and created an underlying pressure.

A small incident, like the barber shop, can wipe every suggested solution away and end up in a giant explosion.

To overcome depression, the gloomy picture has to change bit by bit.

Try to paint a few flowers into the picture, as our children really show a passion for this.

Try to paint a tree when they look you in the eyes (eye contact can be difficult for autistic people as they are afraid of social interaction).

Be fair to them, as they have already tried hard to improvement, which we can ignore as we compare them with the girl next door, who studies in a prestigious school, plays the violin well and...

I have heard about autistic people becoming professional musicians, mountaineers or talented artists within a short time, because of their obsessive tendencies.

Our children may not be geniuses, but they will have their own talents which help them survive. As parents of autistic children, we have to trust that ours will do well on their own among the various trials they need to face.

And, above all, remember God will take good care of them too.



• Painter 
Ma On Shan