SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — Brooke Wells is a cosmetologist and hair stylist at The Beauty and Barber shop in Spokane Valley.
She specializes in working with children who have autism or are on the spectrum.
While she can finish most of her client's haircuts in 15 minutes, some of her younger visitors come in her shop between one and five times before she can start cutting their hair.
"A lot of kids will come in, and their parents will say, 'I've been to six other salons, and they keep turning us away,' either because the child is crying or they won't sit still," Wells said.
Wells is a former certified nursing assistant who worked for people with developmental disabilities. But after having two children, she switched paths and went to cosmetology school.
She later found a way to merge her two passions.
In between her other appointments, Wells schedules time to personally interact with her clients who may have a difficult time becoming comfortable in the shop.
Her latest client is Ryder, a 5-year-old with autism.
"Having a shop like this is really important to parents like me," said his father, Ryan Solorzano.
Solorzano and Ryder have been into Wells's shop twice, but Ryder hasn't felt comfortable enough to get his haircut.
For an hour on Friday, Wells took time to spend building a friendly bond with Ryder.
"Sometimes it's too much stimulation or there's too much going on and they need to come hang out with me more than once, maybe more than twice sometimes," Wells said.
She and Ryder drew on a chalkboard, colored in a book and played with stuffed animals.
"It may seem like we're doing a lot to get ready for a haircut. But for these kids, establishing a relationship gets them calm. Otherwise, it could be hard trying to work with them," Wells said. "Sometimes we just have to hang out."
While Ryder didn't seem comfortable enough to get his haircut Friday, his dad and Wells said there's a good chance he'll be ready by his next visit.
"It just makes it lot more of an experience with her (knowing) that she's willing to take the time and sit with him so we can get to that point to where he can actually do what we came to do," Solorzano said.
"It really gives me a purpose in what I'm doing," Wells said. "So it's more than just having people come in and leave."