Written by Kaysie Hermes Bolton, Founder/Owner of Bayou Blend Apparel
Kaysie is a Shreveport Native. She moved to Lake Charles in 1997, graduated from TexasChristian University in 2003, and made Lake Charles her permanent home in 2006.
*Lake Charles locals can shop Bayou Blend Apparel at We Rock the Spectrum Gym and Gifts and Grinds.
Isn’t it amazing when you find yourself amidst one of God’s jigsaw puzzles (pun intended)? November 2016, I shared my current confliction with a family friend of not feeling like I was neither serving God’s purpose, nor contributing to the world. He earnestly said in return: “Kaysie, you are mother of three, raising good and kind kids. What is a better contribution to this world than that?”
Even though his words of sincerity rang some truth, I still had an unsettling feeling. Two months later we had our son evaluated for Autism. In late March 2017, we received his diagnosis, and a month later, we were enrolling our son in therapies up to eight hours, five days a week. And in May 2017, Bayou Blend Apparel, LLC was created.
My personal Autism journey began when my son was about 22 months and his speech regressed. He was no longer saying “mmmm” when eating or “mama” or “dada.” There were a few other recognizable traits, but many that could have been attributed to his age or considered “quirks.” Not all two-year-olds have good eye contact, and not all kids who walk on their tip toes are on the Spectrum.
Our first thought was that his regression must be because baby sister was brought home from the hospital at a pivotal speech growth. But when we had our two-year doctor visit, we started to talk about speech delay. We began with speech therapy. Then we tried some Applied Behavioral Therapy (ABA), and although he progressed, we knew there was an underlying problem.
A friend suggested we take our son for an evaluation to the St. Nicholas Center for Children, a non-profit organization that provides many therapies for children with special needs. After all we went through, multiple therapies, professionals telling us he wasn’t Autistic (yet he needed therapy five days a week); we found ourselves feeling frustrated and confused until we walked through those doors. I remember crying with fear and relief.
However, just because we had a diagnosis we “weren’t out of the woods.” We had another hurdle, insurance. Our son is considered mildly Autistic, Level 1 on the Spectrum. In order to receive all the necessary treatment and therapies, we needed insurance to recognize HIS special needs. We needed more documentation to back his diagnosis.
I called our case worker and explained to her the dynamics of Louisiana. The cookbook, “Who’s Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make A Roux?” best describes relationships in this great state. I text, call or knock on my wonderful doctors’ doors. Not all conversations are documented on paper or done in the office. They are family and friends of mine in the community; it is a perk of living in a small city. I told her my entire story of trying to get our son the help and therapies he needs and prayed for favor. She listened and said calmly, “If only more parents called us to plead their child’s case, their needs can be met. I can assure you, he will receive the necessary therapies he needs with our help. Just get us some more documentation.” Due to all our previous therapies and with our doctor’s help, we were able to gather the necessary information needed for our insurance provider. As parents, we are our children’s voices and best advocates; never stop if you believe there is a need for your child.
Being a parent of a child with special needs immediately catapults you into being outside of your comfort zone. You have to immerse yourself in this community by educating yourself, teaching your child new ways of learning, supporting others going through the same thing, and in return be supported by others. I have been that parent crying in my car after I tell my son good-bye and a dear friend opens the car door and hugs me through those tears, as I have done the same for others. It’s amazing the kinship among those with family members who have loved ones with special needs. We all know parenting is hard from the get-go, but the pressure of tolerating, learning, and accepting the characteristics of someone on the Spectrum can be challenging and exhausting. Yet, it can also be incredibly enlightening. It’s humbling to see the limitless expression of their minds when they have limited physicality or motor skills through various art forms, such as music or memorization.
My son would only wear tees from the Soul Project, a store in Laguna Beach, CA. They sell surfing, soft tees, trucker hats, and other ocean-related merchandise. We were impressed with the company’s “What’s in a Dollar” campaign; a dollar from every Soul Project item purchased is donated to numerous kids and environmental charities. And in this particular case, the dollar was going to an Autism foundation. Little did we know, a year later we would receive our son’s diagnosis.
One day, Christy Jones, the center’s founder and director, complimented the tees he wore every day. I was excited to tell her the back story, how those particular purchases gave back to an Autism non-profit. I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we found a local retailer to create an Awareness shirt with the same edge and appeal. Not just the typical Awareness shirt; one that is fashion focused? And then a portion of the proceeds can go back to the Center?” As soon as I heard myself say it, I knew it was God telling me to do it. Buying the Soul Project shirts, the desire to help others and fulfill a purpose, our son’s diagnosis were all pieces to a puzzle, a divine plan. I was determined to pay it forward.
I created the brand with the #WEARAUTISM™ line in mind, Autism Awareness shirts that were stylish streetwear. Most “Awareness” shirts are fundraiser driven. I wanted to separate myself from the shirt that is given at the end of the 5k run, which is great. However, I wanted to create something that was design driven, in a creative artistic way. Many people on the Spectrum are extraordinarily artistic and creative. Think about all the creativity that goes into the way they perceive, interpret and learn tasks and information. And their talents are amazing from painting to playing music and recalling facts.
A lot of Bayou Blend’s #WEARAUTISM™ designs focus not only on those talents, but characteristics of someone on the spectrum. Take “Autism Counts” for example. One day my son saw a chart with multiple cars on it and immediately said, “Six trucks!” It was within seconds! I added the “peace sign,” to illustrate the hand gesture for the number two, as well as the word “Peace.” My ultimate goal was to create a shirt that represented the “cool” side to Autism, a positive way to capture their unique abilities.
But then one day, while sitting in a waiting room, I had a huge “A-Ha moment.” My son had his first major public fit. For a long time, he was non-verbal, a wallflower, and was quiet about all his emotions. Once he started receiving therapy, he started to have a voice. Like most toddlers, it was one of frustration. He screamed so loud while hitting his ears, that it silenced the room. I got him to calm down, but overheard one of the adults say, “Whoa!” But it wasn’t a “Whoa, we have been there, mom!” It was one word, full of judgment and disgust. I looked at my friend and said, “That is why I am making the shirts.” She had no idea what I was talking about, but I did. I got it. I knew exactly what God was telling me.
Bayou Blend is for all those parents who have had to leave the grocery store and baseball fields because of the embarrassment or shame felt by those around them. There is no physical recognition to Autism. Often someone on the Spectrum is misinterpreted and misjudged. I know, I have been that person, looking at the mom in the store thinking, “Doesn’t she know how to control her kids?” Now I wear my “Spectrum spectacles,” and can assess those situations with an educated perspective.
The intent is not about getting the public’s approval; it is about giving society a visual cue to what is the situation at hand. I want kids and adults to feel confident, and know that one shirt can say a lot.
We just recently traveled as a family. Our son was wearing one of the #WEARAUTISM™ tees. He was challenged with sensory overload during our vacation, and had a huge meltdown in the airport bathroom. For the first time, my heart didn’t start to race. I was calm and collected, which allowed me to focus on calming him. I felt a pivotal moment as a special needs parent. I knew people were staring, and I knew people were watching us. But as I knelt down in front of him to start his breathing techniques, tell him he was safe, and wipe his tears, I knew this was a teachable moment not only for me, but for others. Perhaps someone in this room is learning, understanding, becoming aware of what a child with Autism looks like. What used to be those looks of judgment and misunderstanding were now compassion and understanding. I walked out of the restroom and burst into happy tears. After seeing the potential of the tees, #NOTJUSTANOTHERGRAPHICTEE™ became the slogan, and the true meaning of the brand was born.
To reach a larger audience, I decided to expand the brand by creating two other apparel lines that signified my blend: L.A. to LA, a California vibe with Louisiana roots, and SPIRITUALITY, an expression of faith and positivity.
I wanted to take the concept further, based on my son’s own needs, and sought out to make all tees sensory friendly, not just the #WEARAUTISM™ line. Please note: One does not have to have Autism to have Sensory Processing Disorder. It is, however, a common trait for those on the Spectrum. Working with some of the top vendors in California, we figured out the formula: the use of premium fabrics, special inks and custom print methods to insure a “soft to feel” touch.
Bayou Blend Apparel is #NOTJUSTANOTHERGRAPHIC™. With EVERY purchase of a tee, we donate a portion of the proceeds to an Autism non-profit. This is our way of giving back to the community that embraced my son after his diagnosis.
We have come full circle to another year, and officially launched www.shopbayoublend.com, an online retail store of sensory friendly tee’s, hats, accessories, books and opportunities to help create Autism awareness and acceptance. We invite you to shop with Bayou Blend Apparel and help us GiveBackBayouBlend™.