Local hairstylist: Kids with special needs ‘forgotten’ amid virus restrictions

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SAN DIEGO – A local hairstylist, whose focus is serving children with autism and other special needs, recently joined a lawsuit to fight back on state restrictions imposed on salons amid the surge of the COVID-19 cases in California.

“It’s not fair for the special needs community to always be forgotten,” said Amy Mullins-Boychak, owner of San Diego’s tHAIRapy Hair Salon.

Mullins-Boychak joined the suit filed by JD Bols, a San Diego-based businessman who took aim at Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state and local officials earlier this year, arguing that statewide public health orders “have come at a steep price” to residents’ civil rights and liberties.

Following a rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, Newsom announced new restrictions in July which required San Diego County and other municipalities to shut down indoor operations at churches, gyms, salons and barbershops.

Mullins-Boychak believes the needs of her clients were not strongly considered in the implementation of the state’s public health order.

In catering to children with special needs, she’s developed an indoor salon space specifically for them, featuring chairs and games to keep children calm. Working outdoors — an option some businesses have embraced amid new restrictions — isn’t practical for clients at tHAIRapy, she said.

“When he’s ready, he’s ready,” said mother Shontelle Chavez, who has been taking her 14-year-old son to tHAIRapy for haircuts for the past eight years.

“She turns on the clippers, puts it next to his face so he gets used to the noise — because he does have sensory issues — (and) he wears headphones,” Chavez said. “She’s able to move the headphones so she can cut his hair. You won’t find that anywhere else.”

It’s the only salon where both she and her son don’t feel judged, Chavez said.

“Can you imagine walking with your child and because the lights are too much or there’s too much noise and he can’t help it, having to explain to people around him he’s autistic he can’t help it?” she said, adding, “I don’t have to do that here.”

Aside from not being able to guarantee proper sanitation outdoors, Mullins-Boychak said she wouldn’t be able to provide a controlled environment her clients depend upon in the setting.

Some parents argue it would be a risk for children with special needs to get outdoor haircuts.

“You have traffic, you have horns honking, you have people walking by,” said Diane Erth, mother to a 10-year-old son who goes to the shop. “Where’s the dignity for him if he’s having a meltdown and every person in this building is staring us down?”

Erth and others are worried they could lose the haven they’ve found at tHAIRapy because Newsom’s guidelines don’t necessarily account for children with special needs.

“These families deserve dignity,” Mullins-Boychak said. “They deserve the right to be able to have a haircut just like everybody else. This isn’t about vanity; this is a life skill for them.”

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