While riding horses with her only daughter Ashley, who was diagnosed at 3 years old with pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) on the autism spectrum, Plano mom Dawn Grosvenor had an idea. She would develop a solution for her daughter and other children with special needs to build confidence through a customized magazine full of color, photos and designs. This single mother put her background in curriculum creation and marketing to use, creating HOPELights Media. That idea has now grown into a website that provides parents and teachers educational resources and has acquired a large social media following on Facebook. The web presence is so big (more than 30,000 fans) that recently HOPELights Media was selected as a finalist out of 11,000 businesses by a panel of judges in the Facebook BIG BREAK for Small Business from American Express OPEN contest.
What motivated you to create HOPELights? I knew at some point I would have to leave my professional career because there are very few after-school programs that are available. I wanted to create a business that would allow me the opportunity to pick up my daughter from school and know she was safe.
Tell us about your 14-year-old daughter Ashley. Yesterday we had a situation where her shoe strap broke at school so we went shopping, but that can usually be very stressful for her. In the store if someone looks at us and tilts their head, I simply say, “Hi, this is Ashley, she is my magic angel and she has autism and she’s very smart.” If I find myself in a predicament, that’s how I respond and that feels good. It took me years to figure that one out. There are so many words to describe her. She’s only one percent verbal but 2,000 percent trying to communicate, so oftentimes I’ll call her my little mayor because she always wants to say hi to everyone.
What was one of the major challenges you faced when she was first diagnosed? The first thing I did was hit the computer. I logged hundreds of hours trying to learn more. I remember thinking, what in the world is PDD-NOS? And then I remember being told it was on the spectrum. What spectrum? I really had no insight for special needs before my daughter was diagnosed. I had not interacted with anyone with special needs. I didn’t feel equipped. At that time there were not the vast resources we have today.
What’s been your biggest challenge on this journey? Learning healthy stress management strategies such as not taking things personally, understanding that whatever is going on will pass and to just live in the moment. Not become attached to preconceived ideas, and always – finding compassion. Someone else always has it worse off than you.
Biggest reward? Unconditional love. I did not know it existed prior to having Ashley.
Who have you worked with to create the HOPELights magazines, and what’s included? Every idea leads to another. You have the basic curricula and then it’s a hunt to find the most fascinating way to communicate that piece to that child. We look for photos, color and design ideas. It’s a lot of fun. I work with a variety of people, therapists and teachers. The publication provides children an opportunity to feel successful and work with material that is customized to their needs.
What was your response to HOPELights becoming a finalist in the Facebook BIG BREAK contest? I was astounded by the response. From the perspective of the parent you feel isolated, and most of the time people don’t know what to do. It’s not a lack of caring, they just don’t know and they need help to understand. The contest demonstrated the public’s receptivity to positive insight about special-needs kids. They responded to the fact there’s good stuff to be told. There is too much negativity out there, and that has to change. I believe in being the change.
Tell me how social media has impacted the special-needs community. Social media offers a unified platform. Many people look at special needs by diagnosis, and yes, while diagnoses may vary and the intensity of medical intervention and outcomes may vary, the majority of what parents feel is the same. I believe a mother of a child with Down Syndrome could teach a mother of autism about living in the moment. I believe that same mother can then inspire a mother going through pediatric hospice with a child. The unification of those things has happened on social media.
What’s one message you would like to share with other parents who have children with special needs? I want the parents to feel satisfied and content that they’re doing the best they can and to have peace. You have to learn that it’s time to stop beating yourself up. On the flip side, there are a lot of parents who take the role of victims … eventually they need to perceive their journey as one of courage and a beautiful story.