We Became Entrepreneurs Because of My Son’s Autism
This is the unlikely story of how the diagnosis of autism opened the door to a world of magic and adventure for my son and me – and sensory toys made by us.
My son Jakob was diagnosed with autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD, and anxiety.
However, he wasn’t diagnosed right away.
Years of frustration turned into sensory toys that can help children with special needs
Jakob was born in 2009 and early on his behavior and his social skills were different from other children his age. He would align his toys in patterns, and he found it difficult to communicate with other children.
In the beginning, I had no idea how to help him and I was absolutely desperate to make his life better. So, I started with the only thing I knew how to create; a homemade blanket for his second birthday.
This blanket was designed to help what I perceived as my son’s special needs. This first item eventually led to researching the diagnoses and more products and then an online store. Today, our store sells toys created for children like Jakob and other children with special needs.
But the road to getting here was challenging…
Our Life Before Jakob Was Diagnosed
When Jakob was approaching his second birthday, his behavior was different than other children his age.
Instead of just playing with toys the way his friends did, he would align his toys in patterns. He would spend hours organizing the chairs in our living room into straight lines or taking his books off the shelf and forming patterns with them on the floor.
Because our family was just the two of us, it was easy to let him develop in his own way. I tried my best to embrace his world and see it through his eyes, rather than forcing him to fit in my world.
At times I found it difficult to understand his experiences. In addition to his need to organize, his social skills were different from other children in his age range. He found it increasingly difficult to communicate with other children, and he started to close himself off from his preschool friends. It was clear that he would rather exclude himself from social activities than be forced to do things in ways that didn’t make sense to him.
I was heartbroken. I didn’t have a clue how to help my son. A few days before his second birthday, I started to make him a blanket for a gift. Guided by intuition and love, I started cutting and sewing with no idea of how the outcome should or would look. Without a logical plan, I ended up creating what became my son’s favorite object for years to come.
The blanket ended up being an oval shape with lots of textures and colors. But the feature that Jakob liked the best was the added tassels that I had sewn on the edges. The tassels gave the blanket a different look, but more importantly, it seemed to give Jakob a feeling of security. When it was thrown over two chairs or his stroller it shielded him from the impression of other surfaces. He seemed to feel more protected and safe when it was around.
Then, Magic Happened
Because of Jakob’s blanket, there was a magic moment that I’ll never forget. One day I crawled under the dining room table with him. We just sat there and peeked out through the tassels. In that moment I knew I had to let go of how I thought things should be. It was a flash of inspiration that is difficult to capture in words. I began to fully recognize my boy’s needs in a way that I hadn’t before.
After that experience, I threw everything that others said out the window. I allowed myself to defend my son and his behavior. At times this meant asking the world around us to be more tolerant and forgiving of his actions even when his behavior seemed irrational or unfair. I sensed the importance of showing him my unconditional love and support. I had been freed to act in this way, because I had fully accepted that he was different.
At this point in time we still didn’t have an official diagnosis. However, it was clear to me that he had very special needs. I built on my earlier success with his blanket by making more objects and toys that would support or simply just make sense to him. Throughout the following years, his collection of my handmade toys grew. They would serve us well in supporting our daily routine of school time and bedtime. They were also especially useful when we were traveling, no matter how short or how far the distance.
Finally, Jakob is Officially Diagnosed
It wasn’t until 2016 that Jakob received his official diagnosis of autism, ADHD, and anxiety. I didn’t feel relieved because this label had been placed on him, but I was greatly relieved that he would now be eligible for the proper professional help and schooling.
By this time, Jakob was 7 years old. We were welcomed into an amazing world of professionals and friends who were all struggling with the same issues as we did. Best of all, they showed patience and understanding for our situation.
Jakob began to experience a new world, one where he was accepted and understood. And, in a different way, I was experiencing a new world too. I began to realize the relationship of his diagnosis to his patterns of behavior and it was all starting to make more sense.
The toys that I had been working on for years, suddenly had more than a purpose. They had a grounded explanation as to why and how they work. This revelation was an eye opener for me and it encouraged me to keep going.
Our adventure of making meaningful and supportive toys for children like yours who need extra love and encouragement has just begun. Today, our living room has been turned into a small factory of fun and play. We make some of our toys by hand and also have trusted vendors overseas. We oversee the quality of all of our products.
As we continue to develop new products, we have the support and guidance of professionals in our community. It’s our mission and our hope that children like Jakob will benefit from our experiences and toys. They are made with love from our family to yours.