Louisville woman’s autistic son inspires new sensory-friendly barber shop
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A woman from Louisville is working to create a new normal in the community, by creating a custom sensory barber shop, fit for all.
Tiphanee Lee, owner of Black Shears Barber Shop in Fern Creek, said she was inspired to create the shop due to her son, Semaj.
Semaj was diagnosed with non-verbal autism at two years old.
“When I first found out that Semaj had autism, he would not make any eye contact,” Lee said. “So that was kind of like a sign, ok something is going on. Then he wasn’t speaking when he was supposed to speak, so I immediately went to try and get him diagnosed.”
Lee said she started working from home to have more time with him and get him into therapy.
“I said, there’s something I need to do to be able to be there for him all the time,” Lee said. “So, I decided to go to barber school and I’ve been a licensed barber ever since.”
Now six years old, Semaj and his mother are getting ready for the grand opening of their barber shop on April 9.
Lee said she wanted to do something bigger for other parents that can’t give that sensory feeling to a haircut. She said opening the barber shop at 26 years old is a dream come true.
”It’s something huge to me, because at 24 years old, I didn’t even have a high school diploma,” Lee said.
Now a licensed barber, Lee said she created the sensory friendly shop with her son’s sensitives in mind.
“He’s a happy, sweet kid, he loves bubbles, he loves to eat sweet crunchy chips all the time,” Lee said. “Most kids on the spectrum, they have issues with sitting still. My son moves, so I sort of have to follow him around the room to get his hair done. So it completely has to have a lot of patience to deal with someone who is autistic or on the spectrum.”
Lee said she supplied the shop with earplugs and weighted blankets to help keep them still. She also said she decorated her shop with geometric triangles and sensory bins full of toys to help keep children engaged and soothed.
“The noise cancellation earbuds help with the sensitivity to the clippers, and then the weighted vest and the blankets help secure some in the chair if they have the fidgety or stemming feeling, it kind of secures them and makes them feel a little bit better,” Lee said.
She also said her custom hair products are a part of the experience.
The shop’s motto, “Diversity in their heart and diversity in their shears,” Lee said, mirrors her goal to help the community one haircut at a time.
Lee said she hopes to build a franchise of sensory friendly barber shops that cater to kids just like her son, or adults just like him, or even other kids.
“It’s just not kids on the spectrum that have sensory issues, its other kids as well,” Lee said. ”I want to be able to help as many people as I can... I want people to come in that hasn’t had a haircut for their child and get their child’s haircut that day.”
Lee said the shop is lit up blue for light sensitivity, autism awareness, and as an ode to Semaj.
“That’s my biggest thing, is to make this for my son,” Lee said.
Lee said walk-ins are welcome at the grand opening on April 9 at noon at 5619 Bardstown Road.
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