Win Choiceworks Visual Support System!
Whenever you are feeling like the world is against you, read this post about one extraordinary mom named Julie Azuma. I have to say that I'm ashamed to have sat next to her at meetings for years and hadn't the slightest clue how accomplished she was. This is before I had children and barely knew anything about autism or any other special needs.
Luckily our paths crossed again just a few months ago when Spencer's ABA therapist told me to visit a website called Different Roads to Learning (www.difflearn.com) to find tools to help my older son Logan (ADHD, SPD) who wasn't receiving ABA therapy. Soon I realized that this was Julie's company and was floored to find out what a tremendous figure she was in the world of special needs children. In 2006, Inc. Magazine even honored her alongside the likes of Martha Stewart and Michael Dell (Dell Computers) in their 26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs issue.
Fourteen years ago, not long after her adopted daughter Miranda was diagnosed with autism, Julie decided to create a store that offered tools to help children with special needs. Her main motivation came from having experienced the frustration of not being able to find toys and other tools that were suitable for teaching her child.
Julie soon found out that it would cost her over $200,000 to open a store and while the idea was very new to many back then, Julie decided to open an online store instead. In the first year, she earned just $200 dollars and was very happy. At the time, the store was more of a hobby for this former high-powered apparel executive.
As the store grew larger, she developed Different Roads to Learning to become a resource for ABA therapy. Julie had found that ABA worked best on her daughter whose speech consisted of one word sentences when she started the therapy. "Within 6 weeks of ABA, she could say, 'I want juice please.'" While Julie says that Miranda's speech has not gone much beyond that point, she does respond better now and she credits ABA for much of her child's progress. "We really believe that the data on Applied Behavior Analysis indicates that that's the best intervention," said Julie.
Soon her "hobby" of providing appropriate toys and tools for families of children with special needs began to grow. Last year, she netted sales nearing $2 million dollars. This is amazing and yet it doesn't surprise me. Even though many schools and clinics order from Different Roads to Learning, as a parent, I think the store is really easy to navigate so I can quickly choose what I need. Many online stores sort of overwhelm me and leave me feeling that the site is geared towards professionals.
The site is indeed consumer-friendly and stocked with what I can best describe as "really good stuff." However, I think the greatest key to Julie's success is quite simple. That is, she gets it. She gets mothers of special needs children and the needs of their whole family. If we had a checklist of common crappy experiences of special needs families starting with the hurtful comments from ignorant family members to getting the run-around by the "best" medical experts, Julie could check every box on that list along with the rest of us.
She has even dealt with possibly the worst of all special needs scenarios: Julie was running an errand at a bank when her daughter Miranda had a terrible tantrum and so she had to restrain her. (Raise your hand if you've been there. Mine is raised.) A bystander, who didn't recognize that Miranda had autism, notified the bank guard and that's when the real trouble began.
"We told the security guard at the bank that Miranda had autism and they let us go but the guy had even called the police on us. I explained to the guy that she's autistic and she has these behaviors and he said, 'Well, I've never seen that before!'"
Julie understands how parents feel. She understands how frustrated and difficult their lives are. "We know they are not sleeping... Just making a call to us is taking a lot out of them." I couldn't have liked her more when she said that. There are so many times when I'm on the phone trying to get them more help but they are clawing at me and being so loud. I am always asked if there is a better time to talk and the answer is always the same: NO.
As I write about finding calm as a special needs mom, I admire how Julie took the circumstances of her life and turned it into a wonderful opportunity by helping others. I am hoping that this blog can become more than what it currently is but I don't know if I have what it takes to go beyond these boundaries. Having said that, Julie's story sure inspires me.
I asked Julie what advice does she have for us moms who are looking to be as successful as she is and she said she didn't really have advice to give except to say that the common denominator she sees in successful moms (in the special needs world) is solely this: drive. "They are driven and they know where there's a need," affirms Julie. She described that the passion that they have carries them beyond their own children and that those in the special needs world succeed because they want to help everyone. "I wouldn't want a parent to have gone through what I went through," said Julie.
Thanks to Julie, more people have access to better tools to help their children succeed. If only Julie could develop a tool to prevent ridiculous people from calling the police on us when we are just trying to keep our children safe from hurting anyone including themselves. Surely, that would be a bestseller.
The Transitions-Made-Easy Contest - (now closed)
Pictured above is Choiceworks, a kit that uses visuals to help children with social skills, develop appropriate responses and improve self-control. I think this product helps children with a variety of challenges including ADHD, Autism, and Anxiety. (Click here to learn more.) I love it for Logan because it helps him with transitions which is a huge issue for him. It also helps me get less frustrated with him. Lucky for us, Julie would like to give away a free kit ($80 value) to a reader that can best answer this question:
What do you do to help your child better handle transitions?
Please write your submission in the comments box on this post and keep it under 150 words. Include your email address with your answer so that we can find you. If you do not wish to leave your email with your submission, send me an email immediately after you submit your answer (with a detail or two) so that I know that it's yours. This post will be included in the "Readers Give Advice" section on this right side of this blog, so your contributions will always be there for anyone looking for tips. Deadline is Sunday, November 29, 2009 11:59 pm. Julie will be choosing the winner. Good luck and thanks for submitting your ideas.
Above photo: Julie and her daughters Miranda (bottom) and Sophie (left) at an outing a couple of year ago. Miranda is now 21.