A Letter from our Founder – The BFBM Story
I am often asked what were the challenges that inspired the BFBM team to create advanced learning tools for developmentally challenged children. The answer, like most endeavors is not simple and began with the raising of my second child who is on the Autistic Spectrum with PDD-NOS; however once I realized that I was not alone in raising a developmentally challenged child, the goal became simple and clear: Create improved products that will not only help children with developmental challenges but raise awareness to assist as many children as possible.
What were the early signs you noticed about your son that made you question his development?
Scripting or repeating words
When my son was 2 he used one-word phrases to communicate. I noticed at times when it would seem he wasn’t listening to me or just choosing to ignore me, to focused on his own activity. When he was 2 ½ we would watch him with toy letters spell words all over the floor that were not in his vocabulary or his ability to speak – Colorful, Adventure,Teamwork, Making, Music and Emergency. He was not able to verbally communicate but it would be with a lot of single words or pointing to things he wanted. Evan was always very easy to look after. He didn’t seek out my attention and would often wander around looking and watching things. Much different than my older son, Evan didn’t really want me to lay with him at bedtime, and he in fact would very often put himself to bed.
By the time Evan was 3 going on to 4 he used only movie quotes to speak. His language comprised of only phrases he had seen on television. When he was mad or upset at us he would say “No MOM its just because your afraid of the ocean” – which was a phrase from Nemo.
Evan also was very sensitive to sounds and light. In the car his eyes would water when we would drive on a sunny day. I learned to have sunglasses for him to help with the brightness. He also was VERY sensitive to sounds. He very often would cover his ears most of the day for both loud sounds but also in new environments or when he felt uncomfortable or overwhelmed.
What made you get Evan evaluated? Why didn’t you go at 2 when you were noticing these signs?
Family say's he's perfect
Drs. didn't note any need for follow up
Just wait and see
I had my own ideas that their maybe something a little off about Evan’s development, with his limited language and how he would be so content being independent. I brought it up to my mother, who told me he was perfect. I asked another friend who was a pediatrician, and she also told me there was no real need for anything, just “watch and see how he continues”. His own pediatrician said there was nothing that would cause alarm or need for follow up from his perspective. I didn’t notice anything majorly disruptive however knowing the importance of early brain development from my own masters in psychology I wanted to make sure we did everything we could. However I also didn’t want to be the mom who was always complaining or insisting something was wrong with her child.
When Evan was 2 ½, we enrolled him in a toddler program to be with other children. About 7 months into the program his teacher asked if she could talk with me after class. She told me about a language seminar she attended and the signs she was told to look for in children who may need extra language support. She said that she didn’t really see anything obvious but all of the scenarios they used in this seminar made her think of Evan and she wanted to let me know. I was very appreciative and this was all the validation I needed to go to my family and justify an evaluation. I started with a language evaluation; of which was hard to find an evaluation that was appropriate give the complexities of what the Autism spectrum is. This then led to 2 different neuropsych evaluations as well as an occupational therapy evaluation. By the time he was 3 he had more than 6 different professional evaluations regarding his development.
No Shame in an Evaluation or Therapy or a diagnoses
Worried about what people think of their child
Going to therapy means something is wrong
He'll grow out of it
Because Evan had tremendous academic knowledge of spelling and letters, and even reading by the time he was 3, many parents laughed when the found out he was in language therapy, saying he doesn’t’ need that, look how smart he is already. Very often the strengths of a child with different developmental needs will mask other social or sensory development needs they may have. This very often I feel is why many younger children are not diagnosed early enough. I have found parents are also worried that getting their child evaluated may mean their child will be “diagnosed” or something will be wrong.
The earlier a child can receive support in social communication or sensory processing the better the chances for improvement in brain development. Parents may sometimes feel like a child will “grow out of it” and they might, but there should be no shame in getting your child extra support if there is even the slightest need. Studies show that early intervention is critical to helping children improve from developmental issues.
If you as a parent are able to identify how your child learns best, or learn the magic tools you can use to help them best succeed in life, I don’t know any parent who would choose to not help their child.
What did the Evaluations indicate?
In 2007 at 2 1/2 Evan was diagnosed with a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), an autism spectrum disorder.
Several evaluating psychologists explained to me the need for therapeutic intervention and that I would need to teach him social skills and provide him with scripts and examples of situations he would encounter in life so that he would know how to act. They explained that he would need help to learn the right behaviors and what to say in the right situation. They referenced social stories that therapist would use to help him understand the outside world.
How did you feel?
Unsure about his future
Tried to understand what it all meant
After receiving the diagnoses, my research of what I was suppose to do next left me overwhelmed with information, some conflicting describing the best way to help my son. I had little previous knowledge about autism, other than remembering the movie Rainman. I had no idea what to expect nor what to do. Coming from a tech background, my husband and I went strait to the internet.
What did you do after the Evaluations?
Teaching him scripts to use
As much therapy as possible
We immediately started as much therapeutic intervention as we could fit into our family schedule. Evan went to a different activity daily, while continuing his typical schooling environment. We began with Language Therapy, Behavioral Therapy and Occupational Therapy. All of the therapists referenced the need to teach my son social skills and to use visual examples of behavior. However, I didn’t see these tools implemented into the therapy he was receiving. I am not new to the world of psychology, I have both an undergraduate degree and a masters in psychology, but not being educated in a specific area of therapy I trusted that the therapists knew best how to help my son. As he continued I was left wondering if I was doing enough or how much more therapy I should do or not do. As my son turned 3, he continued with limited spontaneous speech, yet began talking frequently in scripts from movies or shows he saw on TV.
My Ah Ha moment for Evan!
He needed it to be visual to learn
In 2008 a new series began on television. This show was a fun engaging series that focused on a 3-step process to perform basic tasks. They showed episodes about teaching children how to brush their teeth, or how to wash dishes and rake leaves. After watching different episodes of this show, my son learned more from a 10 minute video than I had seen from months of trying to teach him different behaviors myself; such as brushing your teeth, or how to put on his shirt. I talked to his therapists about the gains he had from these shows, and they commented on how much of a visual learner kids are with an autism spectrum disorder and agreed that those types of tools are very helpful, but there was not a lot out there. I began searching for more visual tools to help him learn social skills – I couldn’t find what I was looking for.
Improving the tools therapist use now
Bringing up the level of teaching tools to that of entertainment
If kids are engaged they will learn
When my son was 3 years old we were having some struggle potty training. His language therapist told me she was going to create a social story to help him learn this behavior. I was excited to see this tool that I had heard a lot about. The next week, she gave me a small laminated book with simple cut-out graphics explaining the process of going “poppy in the potty”.
Being a graphic designer and having worked in a corporate marketing division of a technology company, I was shocked at the basic graphics and simple creation of this tool. My son was eager and happy to read this story that night and was delighted by some of the silly graphics, however the book was short lived and lasted only one night. I recognized then the need for updated and more advanced way of presenting social stories for children. By the time my son was 2, he was on the computer, to find videos on you tube that he was interested in. There had to be better tools to help these children learn consistent with today’s technology. With the advances of technology and the prevalence of video games and other media for children I was shocked to not be able to find creative tools I knew would help my son. I knew that we needed to improve the teaching tools to a similar level as their entertainment tools to keep them engaged and learning.
Sports - Skills most kids understand by doing…
Kids are supposed to love soccer… right?
Difficulty with high level concepts
The next year, my son started soccer. I thought it would be great for both social interaction as well as helping with large motor coordination. He did great at the first few practices and was excited about playing in the first soccer game. Three minutes into the game all of the kids were following the ball in the standard “bee hive” movement. One of his teammates had the ball and kicked it into the goal and scored. All of his teammates cheered and celebrated - except my son. He fell to the ground crying thinking that he lost, since he wasn’t the one who scored the goal. I then tried to explain to him that they played as a team, and it didn’t matter who scored the goal. The next play, the coach let my son start with the ball. He was excited and started to dribble to the goal. Within about 10 seconds, the other team challenged him and took the ball away. My son tried to explain to the boy that it was his turn, and he needed to give the ball back, but unlike practice, where each boy gets to take turns scoring and dribbling to the goal, anything goes in a game. He again became so frustrated I had to pull him out of the game and sit with me during the rest of the game, trying to help him understand the rules of the game. I knew a cartoon episode would have done wonders teaching him visually what the game was about and how you play. I wished I had something to show him right there on the spot, but it didn’t exist. I needed a tool that could be found and used in that situation, a natural teachable moment. The current strategies would require me to go home and either find and order something or create and write my own story. It wasn’t convenient or easy to do.
Realization I wanted to make a difference and create a new product
When my son started kindergarten, he had made great improvement over the last 3 years and was integrated in a typical class. Wanting to be proactive and understand everything I could to help my son throughout his education, I attended a conference on Educational Strategies for High Functioning Children. During the conference they referenced the need for visual tools, using visual stories and organizers to help children understand different concepts and motivate their behavior. They showed some of the tools therapist and educators use to teach children different skills, and there on the screen was one of the same small simple graphics from my son’s “poopy in the potty” social story book. Two and half years later, I was shocked to see the same simple graphic used as therapy tools, while I watch my son play games on the Ipad with graphics so advanced the characters even had eyelashes and shadows. Frustrated at the lack of corporate or private funding for education and therapy tools for children with learning needs, I decided I would make it happen. I knew my son and other kids would benefit from visual tools that could be accessed anytime or anywhere with the use of mobile technology. Knowing my son still had so many needs and the rising numbers of children with similar needs I hope to be able to continue to upgrade and improve the tools parents and therapist use with children to the current level of where we are today with technology.
The Wonkidos were born!
Fun Visual Cartoons teaching everyday skills
Kids don’t realize they are learning as they are laughing
The Wonkidos™ Animated Series For Kids are videos and interactive ebook applications that help teach social and developmental skills for all children, especially those who benefit from a visual learning style. Together with the creative imagination of Tom and Joe Costantini from Two Animators! LLP, BFBM created the Wonkido animated series targeting children at developmental ages ranging from 2-9 years old. These products model important everyday life skills and appropriate behavior and responses in common social situations. Each Wonkido lesson features an engaging and memorable cast of characters who bring useful instructions to life with visual step by step guides for proper behavior, such as: Episode 1: Going Potty, Episode 2: Getting Dressed and Episode 3: Playing with Friends. The Wonkido Video applications and eBooks are available via iTunes. Each video can also be purchased via Wonkido website (www.wonkidovideos.com) to allow playback on any computer or mobile device.
Brighter Futures for Beautiful Minds became a reality!
As I watched my son develop, I saw how motivated he was to succeed, how loving he was to the outside world, yet how limited his natural development was. I started this organization because I wanted him to have a brighter future for his beautiful mind.
Tricia Sulpizio Estrada, MA
Founder and President
I quickly got over the fact that my son was learning more from Television than from us. Because I knew that was the best way for him to learn.
Founder and President
I began searching for more visual tools to help him learn social skills. But I couldn’t find anything that worked.
I needed a tool that could be found and used in that situation, a natural teachable moment.
I started this organization because I wanted him to have a brighter future for his beautiful mind.