CALEDONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — From sensory to social issues, helping a child with autism live their best life can sometimes be found through trial and error.
Four and a half year old Rylyn loves Elf on the Shelf. Her favorite stuffed elf is named Peter Pan. What Rylyn doesn’t love is wearing pants or, for that matter, most shirts.
“We knew pretty young that something was a little just different,” Britannia Dykstra, Rylyn’s mother and a former News 8 employee, said.
Rylyn was diagnosed with autism about a year and a half ago. Dykstra said at the time, the sensory overload of wearing clothing made it nearly impossible to get Rylyn dressed.
“It was so uncomfortable. You could tell she was crawling in her skin. It was just so miserable,” Dykstra said. “At that point, I was like, you know what? If this is a phase of her life where she’s not wearing pants, she’s little enough, this is what we’re going to do until we figure out like how someone can help us to help her.”
Rylyn gets help from therapists and teachers, but her mom took the clothing problem into her own hands.
“It’s been a massive trial and error with things. I mean, countless different things. I would buy prewashed clothes or I would buy clothes that were like a 100% cotton or different materials. Things with a lot of straps, like tank tops. I’m like, nah, it’s not working. That just didn’t cut it,” Dykstra said.
Summertime revealed that Rylyn was partial to her rashguard swimming top. Dykstra took that small win and ran with it.
“She liked the marble look. And I was like, OK, marble. And then of course her little elf on there,” Dykstra said.
Dykstra designed a couple of different shirts with Rylyn’s taste in mind and sent them off to be made by a few drop shippers.
“Basically we’ve just found like the perfect little combo that’s going to work for her,” Dykstra said.
Rylyn now has a shirt she’s comfortable in, featuring her favorite Elf on the Shelf.
The relief that came with a solution pushed Dykstra to want to share with others. She started an autism awareness clothing line. The name of her small business is a nod to Rylyn’s love for Peter Pan and his buddies: It’s called The Shelf.
“I want to be able to get to a point where if someone is like, ‘My kid loves firetrucks,’ or they love tractors or any type of animal … I would love to be able to design that for them so they can have that, too,” Dykstra said.
Hoping to touch more lives of people living with autism, she’s sending part of the money she makes to the Organization for Autism Research.
“As a parent, … obviously you want to feel like you can take care of your kid the best way possible. And when you can’t make them feel comfortable, it it hurts because you want to help them so much,” Dykstra said. “So being able to find something that was like a go-to for her, I’m like, this is fantastic.”