LivAbility Magazine

Edition 19 | Winter 2020

PHOTO: A young hispanic man in his 20s sits behind an older-looking barber's chair with his arm crossed and leaning down on the back rest of the chair. He holds hair clippers in his left hand. He wears a black t-shirt that reads "be flexible" across the chest. His black hair is slicked to his right and cut short on the sides. He also has a full beard. Photo by Estefania Cavazos.
Photo by Estefania Cavazos

Autism hasn’t stopped him from finding his superpower

By Karam Gafsi

As a child, visits to the barber would instill fear in Carlos Joseph (C.J.) Hernandez.

Hernandez would be driven to tears by the grating wail of an electric razor shredding through countless locks of hair–seemingly slicing scalps–as well as the signature set of barber shears that might poke a person’s eye out.

Eventually, Hernandez took matters into his own hands and began cutting his own hair. At age 15, Hernandez picked up his first razor, a moment he describes as life-changing.

Hernandez, now 28, works as a barber at Jhonny’s Barbershop in Avondale, Arizona. As he fashions a fade for a regular client, he is methodical, meticulous and locked in a razor-sharp focus.

Hernandez calls this detailed approach to haircuts a side effect of his “superpower.”

However, unlike your typical comic book hero, Hernandez’s superpower is not veiled under any sort of secret identity; rather, he displays it prominently and proudly.

It was during a presentation for his classmates at community college where Hernandez revealed this superpower to his peers. His presentation was on the topic of autism. Hernandez had asked the class if they personally knew anyone who had autism. After only a few hands went up, Hernandez let his superpower be known.

“Actually, you all know someone with autism,” Hernandez said to his class. “My name is Carlos Joseph Hernandez and I have high-functioning autism.”

According to Mary McEvilly-Hernandez, his mother, Hernandez was diagnosed with autism at the age of three after a daycare worker noticed Hernandez had difficulties socializing. McEvilly-Hernandez said their doctors were at first hesitant to use the label of autism, whereas the Hernandez family embraced it; thus, they were able to find C.J. the proper resources and education specialists while he was growing up.

“Everywhere where we went, we found an angel that helped guide us,” McEvilly-Hernandez said.

It was his twin sister, Carly Hernandez, who would keep an eye on her brother and help him with socializing when they were growing up.

“We had a running joke that I was his interpreter,” said Carly Hernandez. “I would clarify details for him if he was telling a story about school or having difficulties with a conversation.”

Carly Hernandez said this role she played has influenced her current career path, as she currently is studying to be a speech therapist for people with autism.

“I think I could be a support for others like I was for my brother,” said Carly Hernandez. “C.J. was a huge influence for me.”

McEvilly-Hernandez said she was a little worried about Hernandez getting into barbering, as it would be a very social environment that might not always have the most patient of clientele, especially regarding interacting with someone with autism.

In addition to his autism, C.J. Hernandez was diagnosed with auditory-processing issues, which can make it difficult for him to communicate with others. According to him, while auditory processing disorder can overlap with autism, he personally views it as a separate issue entirely.

“It’s like there’s this wall,” said C.J. Hernandez on his auditory processing disorder. “That’s what has been holding me back for years.”

However, C.J. Hernandez said working at the barbershop has only proved to be beneficial for his social skills. “I’m starting to get better at communicating,” he said.

At first, he was reluctant to share his condition with others, but as he got older, he began to see his autism as something to be proud of.

Photo by Estefania Cavazos

“I’m not ashamed of it anymore,” said C.J. Hernandez about his autism. “My goal is to inspire others in the autism community and those that support them.”

In addition to barbering, C.J. Hernandez operates an Instagram account, @cjtheautisticbarber, where he posts almost daily. Currently, his account is sitting at over 1,400 followers. Many of the posts include photos of his latest haircuts or captions regarding autism awareness. One post reads: “Autism is a gift of life that can change the world.”

Carly Hernandez said she believes her brother’s social media account can make a positive impact on those with autism.

“Someone with autism can see that they can find something they like to do and get a career out of it,” said Carly Hernandez. “It can be a big confidence boost.”

According to C.J. Hernandez, his Instagram posts have received positive feedback from parents of kids with autism. He also has been asked to be a guest speaker at the same community college course where he first revealed his autism.

“That’s what my purpose is,” said C.J. Hernandez. “To show that anything is possible.”

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Karam Gafsi

Karam Gafsi

Karam Gafsi is a multimedia journalist with a love for all things video as well as magazine writing. He is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Through his videos and his writing, Gafsi strives to keep his audience not only informed, but entertained.

Read more by Karam Gafsi.