Story by Maria Hechanova
AVONDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) – A west Valley man is using his disability to inspire others to overcome their fears and achieve their dreams.
C.J. Hernandez, a 27-year-old barber from Avondale, was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old and used to be scared of getting a haircut.
“What got me real intimidated was the clipper, how it makes the noise, and the shears. I thought they were going to cut my eyes out,” said Hernandez.
[WATCH: Autistic barber at Avondale shop hopes to inspire others on spectrum]
His mom, Mary McEvilly-Hernandez, said he would scream at the top of his lungs, cry, and refused to step foot in a barbershop.
She agreed it’s kind of ironic he works in one full-time now.
You can find him comfortably crafting the perfect fade on customers inside Jhonny’s Barber Shop near 107th Avenue and Thomas Road.
“I was inspired by my brother-in-law’s brother who I thought had the coolest haircut,” he explained.
As a teen, he used Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) programs where he learned communication skills and confidence to enter the job world.
“C.J. is truly the ultimate success story,” said Karen Scott, marketing director for SARRC.
He no longer needs SARRC services and is able to be very independent.
Hernandez works at Jhonny’s Barbershop full-time and considered “the GOAT” among his coworkers.
“It’s fun working with him,” said Francisco Rodriguez, shop manager. “He takes a lot of pride in his haircuts.”
That’s the same reason why loyal customer Victor Boneo won’t go to anyone else.
“I look too good, you know? His fades are on point. His lines are on point,” said Boneo. “He takes his time.”
Nationally, recent stats cited by SARRC show 90% of adults living with Autism Spectrum Disorder are unemployed or underemployed in the U.S.
Hernandez, who goes by @CJtheautisticbarber on Instagram, is OK with embracing the label.
“Because I’m proud of who I am,” he said. “I’m not ashamed of having autism.”
He said he’s still working on reading body language but is getting better because he has to practice his communication skills every day.
He hopes to inspire others in the autism community to be brave and know they’re not alone.
“Anyone in the autism spectrum can do anything and I’m the perfect example of that,” he said.
“It overwhelms me with emotion, positive emotion. We are so incredibly proud of him because as a parent with a child with autism. Your number one fear is how your children are going to get along without you when you’re not here,” said McEvilly-Hernandez.