Autistic & Loved provides chewable jewelry and special gifts affirming love for autistic children and families. Here is our story!
My name is Dr. Argrow "Kit" Evans-Ford. I am married to Rev. Dwight Ford. We have two children, Imani and Justice! At age 3 and 4 years old, my two dear children were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I was shocked, confused, and hurt.
When my daughter was 12 months old she started to go to Montessori School. She was bright, playful, and seemed to be doing well. Around 18-24 months there seemed to be some concern from the school leadership in regards to her speech and social development. In my mind, I thought maybe the Montessori approach to school wasn't working for her. I went to a testing center to have her evaluated. At a pediatrician appointment her doctor took out a form to access her for Autism because of certain behaviors: mainly speech delay, social, and emotional challenges. I thought, "No! She, just needs time. How could our daughter have Autism? My husband and I both attended Ivy League schools, we had a healthy pregnancy, and we have worked to provide the best education for Imani from the beginning." I took Imani to the The Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency to be tested at age 3 years old and they affirmed the delays. We got Imani into speech therapy. She eventually started preschool and was put on a Individualized Education Plan. Months later her pediatrician referred us to the Center for Disabilities and Development at the University of Iowa. She was accessed and diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Level 1. I cried and cried and cried. However, I knew that we had to get her the best care possible for her development. The advocacy for my sweet girl started full swing that day.
Justice, my sweet boy, is very quiet. At a young age he would spend extended amounts of time on his own. He loved farm animals and books. From birth he was very particular about what he ate and drank. Even as a baby we had to purchase specialized milk formula. He started walking at 8 months old, skipped crawling, and walked on his little tip toes. As a mother I knew this was different, but had no idea this was a sign of Autism Spectrum Disorder. We put Justice in the best daycare's in the city and even placed him in the local Spanish Immersion child care center. When doctor's asked assessment questions about Imani, I realized that many of the signs of Autism were connected to what I was seeing with Justice. He walked on his tip toes, he had very particular eating habits, repetitive behavior, speech, social delays, and chewed on his clothing when anxious. At age 3, Justice was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Level 3) and Mixed-Receptive Expressive Language Disorder. Again, I cried and I cried. I think the tears have given me strength to be an advocate for my children.
My son is a chewer. When he gets anxious he chews on his arm or his clothing. Our family found chewable jewelry to be super helpful for him. Chewable jewelry is stylish and discreet silicon jewelry that is safe for children and adults to chew on. Justice wears a chewable necklace daily! It is so helpful for him.
After months of advocacy, phone calls, and health insurance approval Imani and Justice were both accepted in the Applied Behavior Analysis Program at Balance Autism. Psychology Today explains: "Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy that focuses on improving specific behaviors, such as social skills, communication, reading, and academics as well as adaptive learning skills, such as fine motor dexterity, hygiene, grooming, domestic capabilities, punctuality, and job competence." Imani goes 3 hours a day and Justice 6 hours a day.
Going to Balance Autism daily, I would watch the kids going in and out. As one who studies and teaches on culture and diversity, I noticed that the children being served came from a diversity of backgrounds. I saw Black kids, White kids, Indian kids. Autism impacted a diversity of families.
Seeing this daily triggered something in my brain and heart, maybe even my soul! Why not start a chewable jewelry line that celebrates the diversity of Autistic children and their families? As I look at my daughter and son, regardless of what Autism looks like in their life, I want them to know they are loved. My chewable jewelry pieces, autism jewelry, and awareness pieces celebrate Autistic & Loved children and families. My first chewables will be Imani and Justice, a little brown girl with 2 pony tails and a little brown boy with a little afro. Beautiful pieces that reflect the diversity of who my children are in silicon necklaces that they can chew on if needed!
I am excited to create my own chewable jewelry line, Autistic & Loved, LLC, as well as partner with Autism Moms and Autism Allies around the United States who create beautiful Autism Awareness pieces. I hope you will journey with me as I celebrate my children and so many other children in the world who identify as Autistic & Loved!