April is National Autism Awareness Month and two Houston mothers of children affected by the disorder and related conditions are spearheading a fashionable way to help the cause.
Elaine Turner, the mother of a special needs 12-year-old daughter, is featuring a line of jewelry hand-created by Houston young adults with autism and similar special needs. The Aspire Accessories collection, which ranges in price from $25 for bracelets studded with turquoise pieces to $68 for a handwoven lariat necklace, is available at all seven Elaine Turner stores and online.
During this month, Turner is donating 50 percent of sales of the jewelry to Social Motion Skills, the Houston-based nonprofit that provides programs and solutions for families dealing with autism, ADHD, and similar social challenges.
Denise Hazen founded Aspire Accessories about six years ago with her son Nicholas, who is on the austim spectrum. "I knew Nick had a special talent for detail work so we began working with a leather craftsman making leather bracelets," Hazen explained in an email. "The popularity of the bracelets began to catch on and soon I was in need of other artisans. Nick’s classmates began to help in the production and post production of the bracelets.
"What began as a mother-son endeavor has now become a thriving workshop where we design, make and sell leather accessories and home décor and employ people with disabilities that are capable of work and who want to work."
Advocates say that there is a woeful lack of programs aimed at helping those with autism transition from school to adulthood with skills that help them become self-sufficient. One of the model programs is Aspire Accessories, where 16 young adults ranging in age from 20-34 currently design, manufacture, ship and sell jewelry and other products. Besides the camaraderie, they are earning wages and learning how to be more independent.
"I have to say the surprise gift of Aspire Accessories is the community these artisans have created," Hazen said. "My son now has a real group of friends. They're so into it. It's amazing."
In addition to jewelry, the Aspire Accessories website offers handbags, monogrammed coasters, hat bands, key chains, napkin rings, custom engraved items, and other products.