Why are you speaking out about your son’s autism?
When we first started to suspect Liam had autism about 7 years ago, I spent countless hours reading books and searching the internet to try and learn everything I could about autism. There was plenty of information about the symptoms and therapy programs for early intervention. But what I found a lack of was personal stories. I longed to see video of a kid with autism, so I could see if I could recognize any of Liam’s behaviors. I wanted to have an idea of what real people and real families were like. I was so upset and worried. I think having a glimpse into a real family’s world would have helped me process it all. I would have loved to see some of the happy moments too. That’s what we hope to do for other families facing a new diagnosis.
You created Rock Your Speech songs for your son. What made you want to expand it into a business?
Our son responded so well to our songs, we were excited about it! We saw first hand how he took words from our songs and used them in social situations. With all the various challenges of raising a child with autism, we saw many other needs that weren’t being fulfilled. Autism has some unique challenges. The kids are very, very smart about some things, and other things are a major challenge to learn. We were constantly having to come up with our own way of meeting those challenges. We are creative people, and we thought it would be very fulfilling to dedicate our energy to creating things that can help families who are living with special challenges.
Is Rock Your Speech a nonprofit?
No. We consider our business a social entrepreneurship. It makes more sense for us to partner with existing organizations that we feel are doing great work for autism spectrum disorder and other special needs causes.
We, like any other special needs family, are stretched thin, both for time and finances, in an effort to support our child. We are putting all of the energy we have outside of our other jobs (as parents and Tom’s touring with Cheap Trick), into Rock Your Speech. We hope our efforts will provide a useful tool for parents to practice speech and language with their kids in a fun and entertaining way. We also hope to support other families living with special needs by raising awareness about the many important issues we face.
We are also concerned about our ability to provide for Liam in the long term. Children with autism spectrum disorder grow into adults with autism spectrum disorder who need lifelong supports. Housing, around the clock care, being tossed out of the educational system at age 21 and left with no further assistance, and lack of job opportunities are amongst the challenges we know are right around the corner for us.
That’s why we are so motivated to do what we are doing. We hope for a better future, not just for Liam, but for all families effected by Autism Spectrum Disorder.
What are some other things you are creating besides the music?
Right now, we're working on creating music based speech exercises. We're also working on lots more video content, including videos of us practicing words from our songs, and interviewing people about autism and music therapy. We talked our new friend Meagan Morrow, who is a superstar music therapist, into collaborating with us on the therapeutic content, and we're hard at work on that right now.
We would love to create a Rock Your Speech interactive app. We know that kids with autism gravitate toward computers and technology. Liam absolutely loves to play games and watch videos on his iPad. We have a great idea for how we would like an interactive app to work to encourage kids to be a part of the music.
My background is in fashion and textile design. One of the daily challenges we face is getting Liam dressed. His fine motor skills are impacted by his autism and his hypotonia, so he can’t use ties, zippers, buttons and snaps very well. He has sensory sensitivities, so he doesn’t like the adjustable waistbands with the buttons on the insides of his clothes. I thought I could work on creating some cool, rock and roll kids clothes that are easier for him to get on and off himself. This would make life a lot easier for us, and I believe it would for many other families too. I have been working out some ideas with a designer for Los Angeles. We should have some things up in our store very soon.
How can I help?
You can help us spread the word about Rock Your Speech. Tell friends about it and share it on social media. Look for our page to launch on pledgemusic.com anytime now.
If you would like to make a financial donation, we have sponsorship opportunities. You can email us about that here. We would love to thank you for it on our special thanks page. We have big ambitions, and we cannot do it all without financial assistance.
Give us your feedback here. We would love to hear from you.
Another very important thing you can do. Reach out and be a friend to someone with autism. Offer to help the family by spending some time with their loved one with ASD. Caregiving for a person with ASD is typically way above and beyond what most other parents have on their plates. We can’t let our guard down when we are out in public. It can be isolating for the family. Socializing is hard because the child’s behaviors can be disruptive. If you see a child acting out in public, stop and think before you give that judgmental glare. Maybe even offer your help. Don’t be afraid. Engage with the family. You might just find something very rewarding in return. People with autism are fascinating and remarkable!