Toy Story of Neurodiversity

Jason Hsieh leverages his personal journey to promote inclusion for autistic children by developing LakiKid toys.

JASON HSIEH LAKIKID

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Jason Hsieh has experienced all too closely the taboos surrounding special needs children in Asia. While disabilities in general aren’t spoken about, those living with autism or ADHD are especially affected. 

“People don’t talk about it,” says Jason. “They pretend there is nothing wrong. They try to hide it.”

Challenges facing ASD families in Asia

In 2015, Jason’s then 3-year old son Keanu was diagnosed with autism. The family was living in Tokyo, where Jason worked in the corporate finance department of Toshiba. He and his wife recognized the signs early on – Keanu spent time on the playground alone, didn’t like to interact with other kids, and had trouble with loud noises and other sensory issues. A simple hair cut could be traumatic for everyone involved.

Jason, who is a native of Taiwan, says that getting the diagnosis wasn’t the hard part: it was harder finding help.  "There were no resources.  There were maybe two therapists in the metropolitan Tokyo area."

So the family moved to Seattle, Washington in 2015 to take advantage of the more progressive attitudes and higher degrees of acceptance in the US towards neurodiverse people. And while things were certainly better – Jason found support groups and plenty of well-trained therapists – costs were prohibitive.

“We were doing 10 to 20 hours of intensive therapy a week at $100 an hour,” he says. “That’s out of the reach of most people.”
 

LAKIKID FIDGET CLOTH
LAKIKID DOG PAD
Jason founded LakiKid to provide products for the neurodiverse.

Addressing the unique needs of ASD families

Part of the solution was to form his own company to serve the neurodiverse community: in 2017, he founded LakiKid, which makes products for people who have autism, ADHD, and other special needs. 

These include weighted stuffed toys, flexible seating options (like fidget chairs), fidget toys, and items to populate a sensory corner at home. He keeps prices affordable: fidget toys are under US$10, an entire Calm Down Sensory Corner kit is US$130. 

But beyond just products, Jason envisions LakiKid as means of providing and promoting community – something he sorely missed during his early days as the father of a child with autism. 

He created a Facebook group called “Ask an Autism Mom” (now a series of podcasts), and before COVID, he formed a support group with around 3,000 members. At the moment, he’s a member of a group of fathers of special needs kids.

Dads especially go into a state of denial. They don’t want to admit that anything is wrong.

Necessary support for ASD families

His experience with these groups has revealed that everyone confronts the same struggles.

“There are a lot of common issues, including dealing with schools and knowing that many parents feel like schools are not doing enough for their children,” he says. 

There are also conversations around family dynamics, such as how an autism diagnosis affects marriages or siblings – something he has first-hand experience with as Keanu has two younger sisters who are 6 and 10.

“It’s another common topic of conversation,” he says. “In many families, of course, the neurodiverse child gets most of the attention, and the other siblings can feel neglected. Frictions can arise.” 

Jason believes that the early diagnosis and intervention in Keanu’s case have made a significant difference in his life.

“He has grown out of a lot of those early behaviors,” he says. “He rarely has meltdowns or tantrums. He’s in a mainstream school now. If he was with a group of neurotypical kids, you would not be able to tell the difference.”

Jason says that as he navigated the challenges around his son’s upbringing, he always kept in mind that Keanu has his own gifts.

“There are a lot of things he can do that a lot of folks can’t do,” says Jason, who describes his son as highly creative. “You have to find the child’s strength and uniqueness. It’s a lifelong journey.”

Jason's Word of Advice

“Early intervention really is the key. All the therapies, including occupational and speech therapies, helped Keanu tremendously at an early age. Parents definitely need to seek out support. They need to find people who are going through the same thing. Often, there is nobody in the immediate family that you can run to. So, it can be a frustrating and lonely journey if you don’t have someone on your side you can talk to.”