FRESNO, Calif. — Five-year-old Saya Luna-Triplett used to be terrified to get her hair cut. The drone of voices, buzz of clippers and shearing of scissors in the confined space of a beauty salon were overwhelming and frightening to the girl with autism.

Hairdresser Kelly Muzio had a solution: Make a barber’s chair out of a saddle on a bale of hay, and put it outside on her farm west of Fresno overlooking a pen filled with goats, chickens, ostriches and sheep.

The result: Fun for kids and relief for parents.

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“I’m not an expert on autism,” Muzio says, “but I know that they need something unique to make them feel safe.”

Her creative and compassionate gesture has made a big impact. Mark Luna-Triplett says the tranquility of Muzio’s farm, and the distraction of the animals his daughter enjoys watching, makes for a quick and painless experience. Saya no longer “screams bloody murder” like she did with other hair cutters in the past.

Muzio, who has worked as a hairdresser for 37 years, started Hair on the Farm in the spring after learning more about challenges facing children like Saya from a friend who works with children who have autism. Muzio still owns and operates her indoor salon, The Crop Shop, which is also at the farm.

Personal experience is also behind her motivation. She has a 21-year-old daughter who is deaf and has a cleft lip and palate. Muzio remembers her daughter’s busy childhood — the many appointments with doctors and meetings with teachers — along with the stares from strangers and their hurtful comments.

At least on her farm, Muzio makes sure children and their parents are protected from that.

“It’s not just for children, it’s for the parents, as a safe place to go,” says Amber Villegas. Her 6-year-old daughter, Maddy Quintero, also has autism. Muzio gave Maddy her first haircut.

Villegas was afraid to take Maddy to a hair salon after seeing the terror in her eyes at doctor and dentist offices, but decided to give Hair on the Farm a shot. It was far from scary.

Maddy is one of seven children with special needs that Muzio has served since the spring.

Saya’s mother, Maria Luna-Triplett, says Muzio makes her family feel welcome and that means a lot.

“It brings a little peace of mind,” Luna-Triplett says, “knowing (Saya’s) not going to panic and be uncomfortable.”

Saya is pleased with her haircut, too.

When asked what she thought of it, Saya said, “Beautiful.”

© 2017 The Fresno Bee
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