For people with autism, the touch of a stranger can be overwhelming.
And for autistic children, the simple act of getting a haircut can be a relatively terrifying experience.
But James Williams, a barber, goes above and beyond to serve the customers of the Jim the Trim barbershop in Briton Ferry, Wales. When one autistic boy named Mason became a regular client, Williams began looking for ways to ease the child’s anxiety.
At first, that proved difficult.
“He wouldn’t allow me to go near one of his ears,” Williams wrote on Facebook. “He would run away [at] times if he wasn’t up to it.”
Over several months, Williams worked with Mason’s parents to make the haircuts easier. At one point, Williams noticed that the boy preferred to lay on the ground and play with his phone.
That gave the barber an idea: Why not lay down next to the boy to cut his hair?
“I went on the floor as I found that’s where he always wanted to be. He played on his father’s phone, watched random programs and that entertained him,” Williams told PEOPLE. “So I thought let’s join him and lay with him and see if it works.”
He also asked everyone else in the shop to stay silent, as people with autism are often very sensitive to noise. The other customers and hairdressers obliged.
“Many times I’ve had to chase him on the sofa, but he laid there in silence and I just started cutting. It didn’t bother him,” said Williams. “Leaving
Mason’s parents, Jamie Lewis and
Denine Davies, were impressed by Williams’ effort.
“His parents’ faces were priceless,” he says. “
At some point, someone took a photo of Williams, and the barber decided to post it to social media. His goal was to spread awareness about the challenges that autistic people face. He also thought that he might have found an effective technique that could help other barbers work with autistic children.
Mostly, however, Williams was simply proud of his job. He said that Mason gave him a high five and a hug at the end of the haircut—a significant gesture from a boy with autism.
Social media users quickly praised Williams for his ingenuity.
“How very inspiring that you put the child’s needs ahead of yours,” one user wrote. “Wish the world had more empathetic people like you in it. May God bless you for your kindness.”
However, Williams is maintaining a humble attitude despite his newfound viral fame.
“I’m just happy to do what I do, as I love the job I’m in, giving a good haircut and making people happy,” he said. “It’s unreal to see how many families you touch all over who have children or family members who have ASD. To have one picture touch so many, I feel you can give them hope. I’m on Cloud Nine.”