Moms work to empower children and adults with autism

Thursday, April 13, 2017
Moms works to empower kids and adults with autism
Moms works to empower kids and adults with autism

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- The CDC says autism affects one in 68 children, and it's the fastest growing developmental disability.

The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders says autism costs Americans $68 million each year.

Now two Houston moms want to help decrease that number by teaching their sons to contribute.

Denise Hazen and Wendy Dawson say it isn't a lack of intelligence, it's a lack of training and social support that hinders autistic adults, and these moms want to change that.

Hazen's son Nick was just a year old when she realized he was different.

"He was not pointing, and pointing is the first form of communication," Hazen recalled.

When Dawson married her husband, he had a 4-year-old boy with autism, Cameron.

"When you say I do, you accept that family fully and wholeheartedly," said Dawson.

Once their kids reached middle school, they realized their sons would need something other than classroom instruction.

Hazen knew her son had advanced fine motor skills, so they started crafting leather.

"They're only going to rise to your expectations, so if your expectations are low, that's all they're going to achieve," said Hazen.

Her expectations were high. In 2011, she founded Aspire Accessories as a meaningful work program for her son and other children with autism.

"Everything is well-labeled and everything is broken down in small steps, so they can have a sense of accomplishment," she explained.

A few years later, Hazen partnered with Dawson, who founded the non-profit Social Motion, Inc., a group that helps autistic children with social skills and prepares adults with autism for the work force through Aspire Accessories and outside jobs.

"That program is to train students up on self-awareness, coping skills, and help them understand through assessments where they will be a good fit in the community. So much of our focus there is to work with the employee but also the employer," explained Dawson.

Their goal is that their kids and others can feel the self-worth that comes along with contributing to society.

"It truly is our heartfelt passion that we can be the window to the world for all the families that follow us and that Social Motion can be a resource to the community that didn't exist when our kids were growing up," said Dawson.

Last year, their team of 20 workers at Aspire Accessories sold $110,000 worth of products, and they placed other autistic young adults in the work force. They currently make jewelry, coaster, napkin holders, jewelry boxes, trays, and engrave Artic mugs, wine glasses, and other accessories.