Encouragement speaker Derrick Hayes gives an AUTISM Interview by asking six questions through each letter in the word AUTISM to give readers an insightful perspective from parents, experts, entrepreneurs, and other leaders in the field.
Today’s AUTISM Interview is with Jennifer Thomas-Goering who is a full-time anesthesiologist, entrepreneur and autism advocate. She is married to Patrick with two small, spirited boys, Dayton and Lachlan.
This mompreneur started a beverage purse business in her basement and is now in stores across the United States and Canada. Autism plays an important role in her life. That’s why Vivajennz donates a portion of total sales to autism.
Jennifer’s inspiration resulted from with her energetic children. After many trips to parks, zoos, swimming pools, and soccer games, she noticed they would become overly stimulated by the artificial dye in their drinks. The concept of a fun way to carry water and dye free juice was developed! Jennifer started making these purses as gifts for my girlfriends. As they began to carry these around more people continued to inquire about them.
When they weren’t with the kids, these made a great incognito way of carrying their favorite beverages. Jennifer’s husband and girlfriends were very motivating and encouraged her to start this business.
All her Vivajennz beverage purse styles are named after her girlfriends. They represent their individual fabulousness!
A is for Awareness – When and how did you first become aware that something was different?
My firstborn son, Dayton was a 27-week preemie. He was followed by professionals for his development. As he got older around two years old, I began to notice things that didn’t seem right. I’m an anesthesiologist but this was my first child, so I had nothing to compare him to. He would headbang, have extreme temper tantrums…but he was always social, loved others and wanted to play.
I asked over and over if he was normal, but his doctor and developmental professionals just told me he was a spirited child and gave me a book to read. We moved to a different city a year later, and after 10 minutes with our new pediatrician, we were told he probably was on the spectrum.
U is for Unique – How has this experience been Unique for you and your child?
Having a child on the spectrum has made me very patient. I am very sensitive to other children around me and can tell very quickly when they are not neurotypical. Parents share a look between each other that is an unspoken language of understanding. Dayton is a very social child, and he has an amazing ability to find and play with children like him.
T is for Tools – What tools are there now that were not there in the beginning that could help other parents?
With the advent of insurance reform in many states, there is improved access to therapies. When Dayton has diagnosed the state of Michigan insurers did not cover any therapy. We were paying about $65,000 a year for services. It’s horrible! Luckily, we had a good income to support my son, but there are too many people who can’t do that.
In addition, the only real therapy that works is early intervention. Once that window of opportunity starts to close, you lose out on valuable developmental skills. Improved access to services is so important. When the state of Michigan was voting to include autism services to be covered by insurance, I called my senator and house representative every morning for six months. I tried to advocate not just as a mother, health care provider, but as a human. We as a society need to invest in our children to make them as successful as they can be.
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I is for Inspire – As a parent when you look at your child or children what inspires you?
Dayton was so small, and it is a miracle that he is with us today. The odds of him surviving were low. He has overcome the odds and is such a cheerful, fun, and happy boy. I can’t believe how lucky we are to have him in our life.
S is for Support – Are there things you struggle with or have struggled with and what types of support do you still need?
Every day still has its challenges. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that he can’t help himself. Dayton can be aggressive and hit, spit, and bite. It has gotten a lot better over the years, but when it happens, it is still difficult to control your own emotions. We use support through family therapy, and a very special school that Dayton goes to that provides two days of respite care.
M is for Manage – What keys to success can you leave with parents so that they can better manage their day to day efforts?
This little person in your life didn’t choose to be like this. They are still miracles, and you have to celebrate the little wins in life. Everyone says how important it is to take time for yourself and it really is the truth. I have managed to take this experience and start a business that donates back to autism support. You have to be your own person first to be able to support those that count on you every day.
This article was featured in Issue 77 – Achieving Better Health with ASD