Usually, when your hair’s grown past your usual norm, the simple solution would be to cut it. But for Bostonian James Kehoe saw his long hair as an opportunity to do something bigger – he saw it as an opportunity to give back. Inspired by cancer research campaigns such as St. Baldrick’s where participants shave their heads for charity, Kehoe decided to do something a bit different. Rather than merely cutting his hair, Kehoe did the opposite and let it grow out for a year before braiding it into cornrows. Everyone was astonished at his decision. Why was a middle-aged man from Boston getting his hair braided into cornrows? For autism awareness, of course! Each time a family member, friend, or passer-byer commented on Kehoe’s hair, he told them about his project and asked them to donate $10 to the cause. The thought of seeing Kehoe walk around with cornrows immediately piqued interest, earning an enthusiastic “Sign me up!” from those that donated.

Kehoe had some idea as to what kind of attention he would be receiving, but it turned out to be more drastic of a change than he had imagined. Everywhere he went- the hockey rink, work, school functions – people stared. At times, he debated entering certain places because he knew he would have to remove his hat or hood and reveal the new hair do. Thinking back, he laughs, “There was no way to hide it. Everybody noticed!” Kehoe said that at times it was difficult, like no matter where he went there was no escaping this new addition to his identity. “[It was like] being an abnormally tall person in the room – everyone was staring.”

Although it was tough for Kehoe, he ultimately knew that he was supporting a worthy cause. His son, Tommy, now age 8, has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and has struggled with his social skills. James was inspired to show Tommy and his other children that “it’s okay to be different, [that it] can be a good thing”. And to those that commented on his hair, he said, “Don’t be afraid to do something different… Try to make a difference.” Growing your hair out can seem like a small gesture, but the intentions behind it can go a long way. For children, teens, and adults with autism, the idea of “being different” is something they hear all to often. To see a loved one take action, and put themselves in your shoes was extremely inspiring for Kehoe’s children, especially Tommy.


James Kehoe, before


James Kehoe, after

Over the course of about six and a half weeks, Kehoe was able to raise $770 for the American Autism Association. Our organization assisted Kehoe in finding therapeutic recreational programs for his son Tommy right after he was diagnosed. At that time, we were able to help his family in a time where they felt like there were no options for Tommy. The families we assist through our Autism Help Hotline are what inspires our organization to keep advocating. Every day, we hear difficult stories, bullying, parent’s struggling, and we can’t help but feel stronger about our mission to better the future for children with autism. Kehoe’s donation allowed the American Autism Association to fund another season of our ballet program in New York City.

Currently, Tommy is in the fourth grade and at the top of his class in almost all subjects. Kehoe and Tommy go golfing every Monday, and he believes that the one-on-one time will help Tommy learn the values of winning, losing, camaraderie, and what it means to be on a team. Then, after every golf session, Kehoe explains that Tommy always smiles up at him and says, “See you Monday, daddy!”

Kehoe’s incredible story has inspired the American Autism Association to continue his tradition in other communities. We’re hosting the ‘Let It Grow’ campaign; to allow autism supporters around the country to take action just like Kehoe did by growing out their hair. Grow a beard, a funky moustache, let those curls lose, or even ditch the razor for the month (it’s getting chilly anyways), and help us GROW autism awareness! Register today to help us reach our goals for the ‘Let It Grow’ campaign!

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