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Hi friends, Katie here from Special Needs Essentials. Today, I want to introduce y’all to Kiyah, a Nutrition Epidemiologist, Inventor and Mom who so graciously agreed to participate in a short Q & A. Lets get started! 

Tell me about yourself!

Kiyah: My professional training is as a Nutritional Epidemiologist, which means  Read the rest of this entry »

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Gillian and Mark Kohn not only make a great team as owners of popular Italian restaurant Al Di La in Charleston, South Carolina, but they’re also notably wonderful parents to two sons, Aksel and Alistair. The eldest is Aksel, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 20 months old. Ever since he began school, Gillian has been busy illustrating some very creative social stories for Aksel, placing them in his lunchbox every day as a way of reaching out to him while he’s away. Now she’s creating Lunchbox Artwork as a business so that any parent can place these thoughtful drawings with their kids’ meals. We recently got a chance to chat with Gillian about Aksel, social stories, and Lunchbox Artwork. Here’s what she had to say:

Special Needs Essentials: Tell us about Aksel.

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Gillian: Aksel is bright, intuitive, melodic to his core. He’s witty, interested in the stock market, and a great big brother. He’s almost six, but wise beyond his words. And handsome, too. He’s changed me in ways I never thought possible. He’s made me wiser – a more empathetic, patient person. He’s taught me about kindness, and hardship — how to be still, present in the moment, and so very appreciative of the small (but really big) things in life. I only hope he’ll learn as much from me, as I do from him. I doubt it highly!

Special Needs Essentials: But he made you uncover a talent…

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Gillian:  He did. I started drawing lunchbox notes for Aksel two years ago. Prior to that, I’d never really spent any time “drawing.” Although I knew I was OK at it, ever the artist, I much rather preferred to write or sing. Two years ago though, when Aksel officially started school, I knew, given his diagnosis, that he needed a little extra. By that, I mean visual supports and social stories. Not that he wouldn’t get them from school — he just needed them from home, too. In a hard copy. From mom. So, I started drawing. (Or really, maybe I did it for myself? To somehow “reach out” and understand my sweet little boy. My child, that didn’t at the time, talk or connect to anyone or thing.)

lunchbox artwork - Special Needs Essentials

In starting though, I never really thought my “notes” would eventuate into anything more than a Ziploc bag of peanut butter-stained keepsakes. But I now see the potential and “need” for it. All children need visual reminders, little loving notes from home that say they’re special, loved, and irreplaceable. Hence this small business that’s taking shape … I couldn’t be more excited or fulfilled.

Special Needs Essentials: How do you find inspiration for your lunchbox notes?

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Gillian: I use social stories, a concept that was conceived in the ’90s by the special education teacher Carol Gray. They are short stories used to praise and prepare children on the autism spectrum to social interaction. Personally, we’ve been using social stories with Aksel for years now and have found them to be very beneficial. There are generalized social stories for purchase — that we have in our collection, ones that have helped — but most of our social stories are specific to Aksel and his development — written by his team of therapists. The topics range from potty training and self-help skills, to starting a new school, going on a family vacation, and celebrating birthdays. We’ve also targeted issues like sharing, hitting, and expressing his emotions.

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Special Needs Essentials: Now, how are you going to keep this adventure going?

Gillian: At the moment, Lunchbox Artwork is available for purchase at Tin Can Paper Boutique in Hartsville, SC, or can be ordered directly from me at lunchboxartwork@gmail.com or through Lunchbox Artwork’s Facebook page

And it’s definitely a personal goal to create a packet of “social stories” for children on the autism spectrum — a special lunchbox collection that hits on generalized issues and assists as a visual reminder throughout the school day.

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Are you a creative parent like Gillian? Let us know! 

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