Meriden Barbershop Creates More Inclusive Environment for People With Autism

A Meriden barbershop is looking to create a more inclusive and friendly environment for those with autism.

One step inside the "New Style Hair Studio" and you might forget that you're in a barbershop because it's not a lot of talking.

The sounds you hear inside are catered toward making clients who may have autism with under or oversensitive sensory triggers feel comfortable.

"I saw a problem in the hair industry and I wanted to fix the issue," said Eddie Rivera, owner of New Style Hair Studio. "I wanted to bring something new to the barbershop experience and I think it's important we bring awareness to autism."

Rivera says he had a lot of clients who before the shop opened struggled to find a barber and was excited that the shop opened.

"I think it's important to make sure both the children and their parents feel comfortable," said Rivera. "I want the parents to see that we take our time and we do care about serving them and providing a rewarding experience."

Comfort is a priority for the barbers. Rivera completed an individual certification and has a goal of getting all the barbers certified.

"We want everyone to get a haircut and we want everyone to leave here happy so if it takes a little bit more training then so be it," said Steven Chaparro, a barber technician at the shop.

James Byrd, one of the barbers who work inside the New Style Hair Studio. Some of the barbers are in the process of becoming autism certified.

Doctor offices, therapy centers, and dentist offices are some of the facilities that have actively worked to become a certified autism center.

"Having certified autism centers are a great thing because it ensures that most of the staff at the facility are trained," said Jennifer Twachtman-Bassett, an autism clinical specialist at Connecticut's Children. "I think a lot of us are aware that autism is there and it's important to be aware of what to do to help a person with autism."

James Byrd is one of the barbers inside the shop. "With my son being autistic, the first thing I did was introduce him to clippers and give him a chance to hold them," said Byrd. "I think it's great that the shop is autism-friendly and we're all taking the steps to be more inclusive."

Tanya Iacono said that she was always on the hunt to find a barber who had the patience and understanding of cutting her 12-year-old son, Rylan's hair.

"I felt for a long time as a parent of an autistic child that it was something that was really lacking," said Iacono. "For years, my son has struggled at times with haircuts and I think the shop is something that I never imagined."

The shop has toys for children with autism to use to feel more comfortable when entering the shop. Barbers talk with the children to allow them to be more at peace.

The shop already hosted a soft-opening, but is planning to have a grand opening in the coming weeks.

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