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Red Deer woman with autism launches hairdressing career, with support from teachers, friends

Faith McLean says she learned to believe in herself because others do
Faith McLean, of Red Deer, is living with autism and working as an apprentice hairdresser at Masterpiece Salon, after graduating from the supportive Delmar College. (Photo by Lana Michelin/Advocate staff)

Faith McLean has had a burning passion for hairdressing since high school.

But as a person living with autism who has communication difficulties, she felt getting her credentials would be daunting.

Fortunately, Faith’s family, friends, co-workers and teachers at Delmar College have stepped up with a unified show of love and support.

They “were wonderful, magical, helpful,” said the 20-year-old, who recently attained her goal of becoming an apprentice hair stylist at Masterpiece Salon in Red Deer.

Through the encouragement of teachers and colleagues, Faith said she “learned to be myself,” and to believe in her own talents.

At Delmar College, she recalled instructors were always ready to help ease stressful moments. “They were practising with me all the time… when I was worrying about passing, doing good….I was taking their advice…

“I love them. They think the same way as me,” Faith added, with a grin.

As a result of Faith’s commitment to hairdressing and her teachers’ commitment to her, her marks on the provincial exam were well ahead of the pack.

“She completed all her hours and was successful in all her exams” — including the final Alberta Industry Training exam, said Carrie Hannah, director of Delmar College’s Red Deer campus.

To surmount Faith’s apprehension about exams, provincial examiners agreed to test her at her own station at the college to ease her anxieties. Now Faith has earned her Red Seal, allowing her to cut hair anywhere in Canada.

Although Delmar has a diversity and inclusion policy, Hannah wasn’t sure what to expect when Faith came on board as a student. “I told her parents, we haven’t had anyone like Faith before, but we are open to trying.”

Soon Faith was impressing teachers with her strong work ethic and “good hands” for hair design.

Not only is she a capable stylist, “she’s one of the strongest academic students we’ve had,” said Hannah. “The beautiful thing about Faith is she’s one of the kindest humans you will ever meet.”

Hannah noted many “regular” clients specifically ask for her when they come in for a cut or colour.

Although she works professionally at Masterpiece Salon, Faith continues to cut hair at the college two days a week to keep up the connection. “We wouldn’t want to do without her,” explained Hannah. “ She’s my welcoming committee. She’s the first to introduce herself to new students and to show them around…”

Faith’s mother, Andrea McLean, is grateful for all the assistance and support her daughter has received.

“People with disabilities face such hardships and completing this journey and passing all her tests is nothing short of a miracle,” said Andrea.

“Delmar school has been amazing and now a local salon has put her under their wing… She has had the most amazing support… There was a whole village behind her.”

At Masterpiece Salon, Faith’s co-workers “instantly fell in love with her… She’s so funny and is such a hard worker,” said the owner, a former Delmar teacher, Taylor Page. She noted Faith has already started building up a loyal clientele.

People are not only appreciating her hairdressing talents, but are also relating to her struggle because they have a relative or friend who is also autistic, said Page. “They say, ‘I would love a quiet appointment so I can read or go on my phone.”

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