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The phone in Franz Jacob’s barber shop has been ringing off the hook since the last appointment with his six-year-old customer Wyatt Lafrenière.
A photo Wyatt’s mother took of the tattooed barber lying on the floor to finish off Wyatt’s haircut got more than 850,000 views on Imgur, an image-sharing platform.
”I understood that with Wyatt I have to follow him around the salon with my tools to finish the cut,” Jacob said.
His old-fashioned barber shop in Rouyn-Noranda, in Quebec’s Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, 600 kilometres northwest of Montreal, just celebrated its second anniversary.
Jacob said he has several regular customers with autism, Wyatt being the youngest.
Parents know to show up at the end of the day.
“I lock the front door. It has to stay quiet,” said Jacob, who spends more than an hour with each of his young customers.
Jacob said the barber shop walls packed with memorabilia and the old-time atmosphere seem to work, and there’s always some candy nearby as well.
”It’s all part of customer service.”
An everyday hero
Wyatt’s mother, Fauve Lafrenière, calls Jacob “an everyday hero.”
”He takes care of everything, and I don’t even get involved. It takes a load off my shoulders,” she said.
Lafrenière said Wyatt is both hyposensitive and hypersensitive.
She said this means at times he doesn’t feel pain, but having his hair touched can also be unbearable.
”Usually hairdressers sort of panicked when they saw Wyatt arrive, so it was really exceptional to meet Mr. Jacob,” Lafrenière said.
She referred several other parents of children with autism to the salon.
She said Jacob kneels down to Wyatt’s level and directs his attention to items in the shop.
”He welcomes him like his best friend. To see that he accepts these differences is just fantastic,” said Lafrenière.
She posted the photo to her Facebook page and was surprised to see it shared outside of her immediate circle — and shared and shared and shared.
”Maybe it will open people’s eyes that there are other ways to approach differences.”
More than a hairdo
Jacob said he’s been a barber since the age of 12, trying out his first mohawks and spikes on friends.
He said he is touched that of all the stylish photos he shares on social media, it’s this photo of him and Wyatt that people are reacting to, from places as far away as Japan.
”It’s a side that people don’t see. Being a barber gives me that chance to live those emotions,” he said.
Jacob said he also works with people who are terminally ill, who want to enjoy a last trim.
”When you shave someone who is probably going to die within 48 hours … it’s indescribable,” said Jacob.
”Everyone is crying, it’s really something. I’m really proud to be doing all this.”