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Empowering salon staff through Autism education 

During Autism Awareness Month, we had the privilege of speaking to Level 2 Barbering apprentice, Anya O’Callaghan, from Spirit Hair Team. 

Anya opens up about her autism diagnosis and why hairdressing needs to be made more accessible to those with additional learning needs.  

Anya champions the power of learning and tells us how she’s developed innovative strategies that have allowed her and others to thrive in the salon environment. 

Autism Awareness Month 

“Autism Awareness Month is important because it comes in many different forms. There’s a common assumption that all individuals with autism fall under the same category, but that simply isn’t the case. 

I was first diagnosed with ADHD and then as I got further into education and adulthood, I had another assessment and was diagnosed with autism. When I had the diagnosis, everything made sense. We now have a better understanding of my behaviours. 

I had trouble remembering things, felt overwhelmed, couldn’t organise my time, and would have regular meltdowns. Getting a diagnosis helped me understand myself better and helped the people around me understand. The relief for my mother was a huge weight off her shoulders.” 

A passion for education  

“I have many different roles within the salon, including business development and marketing, head of reception and now graduate stylist. I’ve completed two apprenticeships – Level 3 Social Media for Business and Level 2 Hairdressing and have just started my Level 2 Barbering. 

My goal is to focus more on the educational side of the salon, as well as develop the social media and marketing of the business. I currently help train the Level 1 learners in the salon. I want to make sure they feel supported and have everything they need to succeed. 

Understanding depths and tones in the salon can be challenging, especially for those with ALN needs. To support our apprentices, I created screensavers for their phones, providing visual guides for formulating colour mixtures. People don’t like to ask for help, so having something visual and accessible can make them feel more comfortable.” 

Finding strategies that work for me 

“In the salon, you are always working with the unexpected which is a natural challenge for someone with autism. You don’t like the unexpected. I’ve made a point of educating myself around all the different possibilities to make sure I don’t feel overwhelmed and manage those expectations.  

I do certain job roles on certain days. Structure for me is key. If I don’t have structure, I go into chaos. I have a meeting every single week with my manager to set tasks for the week ahead. Ensuring I always have a goal to strive for is important to me, as I thrive on being organised and keeping busy. 

There isn’t enough knowledge or understanding out there for people to cater to those with additional learning needs. My main goal is to educate others. I am in a lucky position where my mother is my manager and I have extremely supportive colleagues.” 

Don’t assume that everyone’s the same 

“I don’t cut the same as anyone else. People with autism are often referred to as ‘bendy’. I’ve been in situations where people have told me, “I won’t train you because you don’t do things the way I do,” or “You shouldn’t cut like that.” 

There’s definitely a lack of understanding and patience. It’s usually because there’s a lack of education on their behalf, and they don’t know another way of training. But why does it matter if I get the same result and the client is happy? There is no one way to cut hair.  

Lots of people come to me with questions because I think outside the box. I’ve learnt so many ways of how to do something, I can now help others. Not one person with autism is the same, so don’t assume that everyone is going to learn the same. Find different ways to approach a task and that way people are going to thrive.” 

Thank you 

“Finally, I’d like to say a special thank you to my mother and manager Janine O’Callaghan, colleagues Amy May and Becky West, and the rest of my team for their constant support, patience, and understanding.” 

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Anya for sharing her inspiring story with us to help raise awareness during Autism Awareness Month. You can book an appointment with Anya at Spirit Hair Team by contacting her here.  

If you have any questions or require further support, please contact our ALN team today or share your story with us by emailing:  

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