Some people daydream about vacations, a new wardrobe or their dream home. I daydream about visual supports, sensory modifications, language aids and educating others about autism. I know, it’s odd. In the middle of the night, I’ll wake up and jot down an idea on how to help a client overcome her fear of the shower. While watching a movie, I’ll grab my laptop and start creating a visual aid to help one of my students try to eat new foods. While shopping, I find myself buying toys and games that will benefit my clients and students instead of the new pair of boots I originally came for. I don’t have my own children yet, but have a garage bursting at the seams with adaptive children’s toys, games, teaching materials, etc. Why (a common question my family asks)? Because it helped someone impacted by autism or another developmental disorder at some point in the past 16 years of my career. The materials I purchase and make myself benefit children with special needs, their parents and their families. It’s what I do and I love doing it.
The requests started rolling in when I became an ABA home therapist in 2000. The parent of one of my first clients wanted materials to help her do more at home and reinforce the skills her child learned at school and through therapy. I spent endless hours online searching for helpful websites to send her, but I could only find downloadable files. How could I expect this parent to have time to print, laminate, cut out, Velcro and assemble these materials? I decided not to trouble her and created therapy materials for her on my own. Soon, parents of my other clients and students, along with home therapists and educators, approached me to see if I could prepare ready-to-use therapy materials for them. This was still a time when a majority of insurance companies did not cover a cent of ABA therapy; I saw my clients’ families struggle financially. The last thing I wanted to see was them struggle to find affordable materials. So, I continued to develop my own products and gave them away for free.
I never did find a business that offered hands-on materials to help parents more easily connect and support their child. As I complained to my family about this (and my lack of a social life because I spent all my free time making materials), I was told what many have heard: be the change that you want to see. My mother and I would spend hours talking about creating a business that would help create that change. We loved discussing how music and art therapy could support ABA, family life and social groups. We figured that we had a few years to perfect our ideas before implementing them (she had 2 more years as a Director of Special Education before retirement). I always had a deep gut feeling that I’d eventually find a role that allowed me to create widespread impact, and began to feel that this business was the answer. That all changed in early 2010 when my mom suddenly passed away. Not only did I lose the most perfect role model a girl could ask for, both in life and in caring for children with special needs, but I also lost hope of ever starting that business we so frequently chatted about.
Thankfully, my best friend and sister shares my compassion to help others. Our mother’s untimely passing created such an incredibly strong and unbreakable bond between Elizabeth and me. Her last wish for the two of us to “keep going” inspired us to re-evaluate our life goals and values. With Elizabeth’s strong business acumen, we realized that WE could still start a business that impacts the autism and special needs community by combining our passions and talents. And that’s exactly what we set out to do.
Today, we are driven to grow EarlyVention in order to cast an even wider net. We want our supportive materials to reach children with special needs and their families from every demographic around the world. Although our mom cannot physically join us on this journey, as we had planned, my sister and I know that she is with us in spirit and cheering us on every step of the way.