Hairstylist 'Jelly' Robinson is making the haircut experience more enjoyable for children on the spectrum by offering sensory-friendly haircuts from her mobile salon.
For autistic children, life can pose unique problems concerning sensory sensitivity and unfamiliar environments. A routine activity that they often have difficulty dealing with is haircuts. The sensory experience that surrounds a haircut can be overwhelming and stressful for them. The general sensations of touch, sound and the snip of scissors can induce discomfort. What this means is that the entire act of getting a haircut can even cause physical pain in some cases for such individuals. Fortunately, Angelica "Jelly" Robinson, a hair care specialist based in Houston, exclusively provides haircuts to children with special needs. Upworthy recently got a chance to connect with Jelly through GoFundMe and gain insights into her wholesome job.
Jelly's parents were both hairstylists, so it's evident that it runs in the family. From a very young age, she was exposed to the world of salons and haircuts. She recalls, "When I think about my first clients, I think about my little cousins." Jelly began by braiding her cousin's hair and soon began to spend time with her mother, who worked in a small local salon after school ended. Her passion for the craft made her carry around combs and other haircare tools to gain new clients everywhere. Not able to get her mind off her love for cutting hair, she dropped out of Sinclair community college after two years of joining and enrolled in a hair school.
Reflecting on her choice, she says, "It was the best decision I've ever made in my life." She soon began to work at a regular salon and recognized that some clients had a lot of difficulty getting their hair cut in a conventional hair salon environment, which meant that it took more time and patience to service them. She revealed that this was problematic, saying, "In high-volume salons, the goal is to get the clients in and out. You need to move FAST!" This, however, did not stop Jelly from making that extra effort even though she was penalized for doing so.
Soon, her clients began to notice the extra care she was taking and started requesting her to visit their houses and cut hair. That way, clients would be at ease and Jelly could take her time without being penalized. She said, "Word of mouth became my best friend and every positive experience I had turned into a referral until I was able to leave my job and focus on the special needs community by guiding them through grooming."
Jelly went on to share that the biggest challenge was creating the right "team" for executing a successful haircut. This individual would work with her during haircuts and would often include parents, family members, teachers, therapists and caregivers. She says, "I get the best results with an understanding and patient team that's willing to practice!" Another tricky part of the job involves her finding the line between pampering the kids and pushing them to go beyond their comfort zone. With each child, the limits are different.
She also often faces circumstances beyond her control, such as medical procedures, a lifestyle change and parents splitting up. While these may be beyond her control, they impact how well her session goes. In scenarios where it doesn't seem like things are working, Jelly finds solutions and makes changes to the session accordingly.
Jelly's unique efforts have gone a long way in creating a notion of compassion and comfort for clients with special needs. She says, "It's never a guarantee of a stress 'free' service but all about having a service with a minimal amount of stress." She remembers a boy named Nathan who was particularly scared of getting his hair cut. The boy was so afraid that he would cry in terror before his haircut even began.
Jelly came up with a solution. "His parents and I created a tolerance plan for him and stayed consistent for about a year. Each and every time, I saw more strength and bravery pour from him and he became proud of how hard he worked and pushed through despite the fear," she shared. Their sessions progressed so well that Nathan went from hiding in fear of her to greeting her with a hug and lots of love. Recently, he tried out a conventional salon and "knocked it out of the park."
Before she takes on a new client, she makes her clients sign a "challenge accepted" form. The paperwork has no connection to her accepting the challenge but focuses on the information she needs before meeting the family. This allows her to prepare appropriately and cater to the family's needs. Seeing how her work was benefiting those in her community, Jelly decided to scale up her efforts to reach more people. "One of my moms was talking to me about where I want to take my business next. And I always come up with amazing ideas to help the community. My main thing was how do I do this without funding? She recommended helping me launch a GoFundMe page so I could get funding for all the things I need for the kids but also to take the mission to the training level," she shared.
Soon after, Jelly launched the Fund Big Blue fundraiser, which has allowed her to create a curriculum, give out treats and purchase tools for her work. The donations also allowed her to fix up her mobile salon, which happened to incur a few damages. Her campaign received a tremendous response from the public and she was even crowned as a GoFundMe Hero. Jelly expressed gratefulness for the title, stating that she got to meet many amazing people and was able to bring 500 people together to support her mission.