What happens when a successful Cincinnati business with a global reach is gifted to a leading non-profit that specializes in serving children and families? In this case, it turns into a job-training opportunity with life-changing implications for young men and women on the autism spectrum.
Got-Special KIDS (GSK) is a real-time illustration of how people with autism and related diagnoses can thrive in the workplace environment. GSK specializes in providing sensory friendly aids, toys and products for children with special needs. It was gifted by owner and founder Tammy Andersson to The Children’s Home in January 2020.
“I started Got-Special KIDS after we learned our son had autism,” Andersson says. “I discovered there was very little out there in the way of therapeutic, educational or sensory resources for kids on the autism spectrum, or who have sensory processing disorders or other behavioral and learning challenges.
“Once we were well-established in the special education and special needs communities, I decided to gift my company to an organization that serves the underserved,” Andersson continues. “The Children’s Home was the obvious choice.”
The Children’s Home serves more than 14,200 people every year through 30 programs located at 176 community locations. Got-Special KIDS is among the newest and most unique. The company is now housed at The Heidt Center of Excellence by The Children’s Home and staffed by job-training coaches.
“We’re actively changing the autism story through Got-Special KIDs,” says John Banchy, president and CEO of The Children’s Home. “Many of our perceptions about autism are perpetuated by popular culture and myth. But what we’re illustrating here on a daily basis, especially in regards to employability, is that those perceptions are not entirely accurate.”
Specifically, Banchy says, GSK shows that people on the autism spectrum are very employable and possess traits that would be an asset to any business.
“Nationally, about 66% of the autism community are unemployed,” says Dawn Kaylor, human resources manager of The Children’s Home. “But studies from a variety of sources show that the special needs community make desirable employees. They tend to be fiercely loyal to their organization, which leads to very low turnover, and they are routinely among the most laser-focused and productive people in the work environment.”
Josh is one of the transition students working at Got-Special KIDS. He began in the warehouse of the operation with filling and shipping orders. Now, he also handles the inventory management side of Got-Special KIDS, which ships to 47 states and nine countries.
“I don’t exactly like working at [Got-Special KIDS],” Josh says. “I love working at [Got-Special KIDS]. I love sorting things, I love figuring out how and where things go and I like to help people from other places in the world.”
“It’s been an amazing journey so far,” says Shayla Becze, a licensed social worker and the job readiness and senior retail operations manager of The Children’s Home. “The students are passionate and eager to learn. When you see how they tackle the tasks they’ve been assigned, it reinforces what we already knew: Everyone, regardless of whatever life challenges they may have, endeavors to lead an independent life with dignity and respect. Got-Special KIDS is actively providing the autism community with those tools and capabilities.”
Josh says that autism doesn’t diminish his capabilities to contribute to the workplace. In fact, for Josh, through Got-Special KIDS, now the entire world is within his reach. He’s even sent packages to Australia.
“In my opinion, people on the autism spectrum will get the job done the way the job should be completed,” Josh says. “We all have strengths and weaknesses, and we can use our strengths to complete the job we are given.”