I had a stunning example of how compassion works and how compassion does not works today. Here’s what happened:
We went to a local chain hair salon to get J a haircut. Haircuts and J, apart from his very first on his first birthday, have always been a tremendous struggle. Everything about the process is just torture for him and though I prepare him – social stories, showing him via toys what’s going to happen, etc – it just has never been truly successful. It’s overwhelming, all those sounds and smells and people touching you, but when you’re blessed with a gorgeous and ridiculously thick and fast growing mane like J’s it’s a necessary evil.
So, the bad first:
The stylist who ended up cutting his hair did a good job. I cannot deny her that. She did the best one could with a squirming, crying child as I held him on my lap. That part I cannot lay at her door, she could never have helped it.
It’s how she spoke to us prior to the cut that I can.
A lovely young woman greeted us when we arrived and was very gentle and understanding with J. She pushed nothing, let him take his time, spoke to him directly and attempted to connect with him. He recognized this and despite tears, he started to slowly warm to her. She gave us leave to use her chair and explore her work station for however long we needed as, sadly, she was leaving. We sat down, worked on a lollipop and worked on reclaiming J’s calm.
Our stylist used the chair next to the one in which we were sat. The woman had a client in her chair, who I will talk more about in a moment. She ignored J mostly and when her client was done, she walked over to the computer and finally mentioned he hadn’t been put in as waiting. She bluntly informed me that if he wasn’t going to sit, she wasn’t going to bother because they had plenty of people waiting.
Um… Weren’t we people?!
I insisted we’d get through it and she answers along the lines of “Fine, but he needs to sit still, it’s not worth me getting cut.”
He’s not tantrumming because it’s fun. He was losing it because he was terrified and being spoken to like we’re things, yeah. That doesn’t help. I bit back my utter horror and embarrassment for his sake and we got through the haircut. Notably, the only thing cut in any of this was hair. Shocking, right?
Then there was the good.
As we sat in the first woman’s chair getting used to things the client beside us, a man with salt and pepper hair, chatted J up. He pointed out how he wasn’t being hurt, how it wasn’t hard, and just generally tried to truly engage him. He asked him questions, made a few comments about his beloved blue bear, got him going about Thomas… He had no idea what J was dealing with or that his compassion and patience with the screaming little boy beside him was above and beyond. He just did it. It helped, a lot. It got J calm enough to even begin to entertain the idea of going through with it and though he cried during his cut, he did not fight as usual. He let me hold him, and we got things done.
Empathy, understanding, the realization that just talking to someone can be an amazing thing… Funny the wonders that can create!
The woman who cut his hair made small talk about knowing kids on the spectrum and such, but she never took to heart what these kids deal with. The man who never knew he was encountering such a child just did what I wish the whole world would, saw a child struggling and did what he could to help when he saw his actions effective. J looks incredibly handsome now and I will have to snap a picture later, just wanted to get what was eating me about that encounter down before I forgot about it.