Top News

Kentville woman’s mobile hair service gets rave reviews from autism community

Hairdresser Stephanie Battams has been hailed as an angel by many for going to the homes of children with autism to make them more comfortable with the process. SARA CONNORS
Hairdresser Stephanie Battams has been hailed as an angel by many for going to the homes of children with autism to make them more comfortable with the process. SARA CONNORS - Contributed

‘It makes me feel helpful’

KENTVILLE, N.S. —

SARA CONNORS

SPECIAL TO KINGSCOUNTYNEWS.CA

To her clients and their families, Stephanie Battams is far more than a hairdresser.

She’s an angel.

Battams owns and operates Homestead Hair, a mobile hairdressing service that caters to people in the vulnerable sector, such as seniors, individuals in palliative care, or the sick and injured.

But it’s her work with children with autism that’s making her a go-to hairdresser for parents and caregivers in the Annapolis Valley.

“It makes me feel helpful,” Battams said of her growing client base.

“Down the line it can be something these children actually enjoy and are excited for, rather than getting anxiety about having to go somewhere and get a procedure done.”

HAIRCUTS AND STRESS

Haircuts, as well as visiting a hair salon, can often be a stressful experience for children with autism and their families.

The sensations that often go along with haircuts, such as cutting, brushing and washing, as well as being in an unfamiliar place can be overwhelming, and cause agitation or aggression.

Battams said a successful haircut is usually the result of distraction. Whether it be singing, dancing, playing with colourful objects or simply talking, she said it has to be a “fun experience” for children with autism.

“I believe if I communicate with them they’re still receptive to that, so I really try to explain every step of the way what we’re doing, like ‘Oh, we’re just gonna brush your hair here, and I’m going to tickle your head,’ and kind of get them used to me, and then me being in their space. I let them know that they’re safe with me.”

When it is difficult for the children to sit for long periods of time, Battams said it’s not unusual for her to cut their hair while following them around inside their homes, often in “acrobatic” positions.

“I just go with it. I don’t want to constrict them or make it a bad experience. It’s a constant in and out, waxing and waning of their experience, and when we’re going through a bad time, we stop, console, and make them feel safe.”

HOMESTEAD AN ‘EXCELLENT SERVICE’

Originally from Calgary, Battams previously worked in hair salons, but was “bored” of the focus on appearance, and wanted her clients “not only to look good, but feel good as well.”

After relocating to Kentville in 2016 with her former partner, she decided to start her own hair service in October of last year, focused mainly on “uplifting spirits” of those who can’t easily access hairdressing services.

She said it wasn’t long before word spread about her services, resulting in several contacts from parents of children with autism.

Sandy Wing, chapter navigator for Annapolis Valley Chapter of Autism Nova Scotia, said Battams’ work with the autism community is an “excellent service.”

“If a hairdresser doesn’t understand (children with autism) then (their) anxiety ramps up. I know she can go right in the home and that can make a huge difference. I’m sure the haircuts take longer than in a regular salon, but they get done, and it makes the kids happy.”

MORE THAN A HAIRCUT

“She’s an angel sent from heaven,” said Jackie Fraser. Fraser’s nine-year-old grandson, Russie, lives with autism. He is non-verbal, and has been a client of Homestead Hair for the last six months.

Fraser said before discovering Homestead Hair, getting Russie’s haircut was almost impossible.

“We did take him to a hairdresser every day for months. We went to the same hairdresser, sat in the same chair, put the cape on, (used) the comb and brush, and it wasn’t working. He’d just get so upset,” she said.

After struggling to find a hairdresser for Russie, Fraser said she resorted to cutting his hair herself, which she said left his hair looking “terrible.”

Fraser said Battams’ patience during Russie’s frequent outbursts while getting his haircut is “amazing.”

“If Russie’s in the window, she’ll go in the window, or follow him around...because Russie’s here, there and everywhere else. It takes so much relief and anxiety off of me because I get very anxious if I have to take him somewhere. It’s so much easier with her coming here to do Russie’s hair.”

Fraser said while a haircut is a small gesture to most children, to Russie it’s a big deal.

“I think it...makes him feel very important. He might not be able to say ‘thank you, or ‘I’m so glad you came,’ but I can see it in his face and his eyes (when he smiles). I love those smiles, and those smiles just say it all.”

POTENTIAL TO EXPAND

Earlier this summer, Battams volunteered her services at the Walk the Walk event for Autism, and she hopes to become more involved with Autism NS. She also plans on expanding her services to patients with physical and mental health barriers, in hospitals and care facilities.

Battams said while her job isn’t always easy, she hopes her services can truly help transform the well-being of her clients.

“It’s more than just a haircut. I think (haircuts give their) power back to them, because it’s their body. I can come in and cut their hair, and afterwards they can feel good about it and afterwards maybe brush their hair, or wash their hair,” she said.

“You feel good about the rest of your day when you take care of yourself.”

Recent Stories