Meet Wendy Dawson of Social Motion Skills!

Hello My Friends-

Last week I wrote about a special Saturday morning working with my son Harrison, his friends and their buddies at Social Motion Skills. It was a morning full of inspiration and I was thrilled to meet Social Motion Skills Founder Wendy Dawson and learn about her organization.

That day I also met Aspire Accessories Creative Director Denise Hazen. Aspire is a program that’s part of the Social Motion Skills organization, and I am thrilled to partner with these organizations and feature their merchandise in-store and online in celebration of Autism Awareness Month.

That day really touched me and I want you guys to get to know Wendy and Denise and their amazing organizations. Today, we chat with Wendy Dawson of Social Motion Skills, and next week we’ll visit with Denise.

Without further ado, here’s Wendy!


ET: Tell us about your organization, Social Motion Skills, and who it serves?

WD: Social Motion, Inc. was founded to meet a gap in services for individuals with social and learning deficits. A local 501(c)3 non-profit organization, Social Motion Skills serves children, adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorders and similar special needs. Its programs equip these individuals with social skills, life skills and workforce readiness in a safe, supportive community. Social Motion works to prepare students for employment, highest-possible functioning and independence. It also provides employers with education and resources for hiring differently-abled workers. To date, Social Motion has served more than 1300 families in the Houston metro area. Basically it boils down to offering social skills, enrichment and transition programs for students ages 3-43. The majority of our students fall in the age range of 8-28.

ET: What was your inspiration?

WD: My stepson was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified) at the age of two. After he came into my life at age four, his Dad and I spent the next decade scouring the Houston area for social skills classes geared for children on the autism spectrum. We were looking for a program that offered 100% social skills concentration — a stable and sustainable program offering precursory training for the situations he would face for years to come. We did not want anything clinical or temporary. We wanted social skills training focused on personal development, judgment, decision-making and the opportunity to practice those skills in a safe environment as he evolved. We never found it, so in early 2010 we founded Social Motion. It is my sincere hope that what was once missing in our son’s life is now found for other children and their families.

Social Motion Skills Founder Wendy Dawson and friends take a time out from game time.

ET: Tell us about some of your programs.

WD: Social Motion’s vision is to transform the lives of those with social cognitive challenges and our mission is to provide strategies and life-path solutions to enable them to become productive, fulfilled individuals. We are the only non-profit organization in the Greater Houston area that provides this span of highly specialized services to families and individuals who are affected with social cognitive disorders like autism, ADD/ADHD, and learning deficits. Since 2010, our dedicated staff at Social Motion has provided an unparalleled level of personal understanding, vision, expertise, and experience to make a meaningful difference in the lives of every family who seeks assistance. The organization provides social skills classes to students of all ages, support and coaching for families, a specialized driver’s education program for youth, enrichment activities and social groups for youth and young adults, mentoring for autistic teens, transition and job training, and the Aspire Accessories microenterprise program.

Aspire artisans at work.

Our partnership with Elaine Turner involves our training program Aspire Accessories which was created and founded by Denise Hazen in 2011 for her son with autism who had shown fine motor skill talents and an interest in leather working. (Check out Aspire’s lovely handmade necklaces and bracelets here.Denise and I have been friends for a long time, and timing was right in 2016 to bring our programs together. We are two mothers and two sons making one hugely impactful program.

ET: Do you have a success story to share?

WD: I have several to share. Teens Mentoring Teens brings special needs teens together with peer typicals to foster meaningful relationships for both mentor and mentee. (This is the group that Elaine’s son Harrison and friends participate in and she wrote about it here.) This group is proving so successful — so full of love, great teens and goodwill!

Michael Wilson, a graduate of our T3 program (Transition, Training, Taxpaying) is now working at Castaway Rods part-time and at Aspire part-time. He has grown tremendously in his self-confidence, and ability to assimilate into meaningful work. Michael tells how he was lost after high school with no obvious path, no direction, no surety, no community. He has found it all through SoMo, Aspire and purposeful, interesting work at Castaway Rods. Michael is excellent with hands-on work, so our training led naturally into his work at the custom fishing-rod manufacturer. It helps that the owner of Castaway, Mac DeLaup, is an amazing man with a heart bigger than his smile. Michael is a success and has many more successes to come.

The Aspire Accessories program is an amazing success. Last year Aspire racked up over $100,000 in sales without a storefront and with the most expensive item being $68. The sales came from friends, pop-up shops at local holiday markets and from major orders from large clients who believe in our mission, like the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. Not only was success measured in gross sales, but more importantly for us, we paid approximately $31,000 in wages to our Aspire Artisans for their diligent work.

ET: How can readers help or get involved with your organization?

WD: Readers can get involved in a variety of ways from the most simple social media “share” to telling a friend in need about our program. We have something for all ages. We love volunteers — mature volunteers who can assist and mentor in our workshop and student volunteers who want to work and learn alongside our students.

We especially need employers who have the heart and mindset to employ these amazing young adults when they finish our program. Ideally these employers value diligent, loyal employees who will love their job and spread that joy to customers. They are employers who want to make a social responsibility message that their workforce mimics the real world and families from all walks of life, and all are welcome at their place of business.

Other than supporting our mission by purchasing a beautiful handcrafted necklace at Elaine Turner boutiques and online this month, we always need donations. Approximately one third of our operating revenue comes from sliding scale tuition, and we rely on the generosity of donors for the balance. We focus on quality over quantity so our student to teacher ratio is low. What we do is expensive but effective and the long term results are priceless.

ET: What is your favorite accessory from the Social Motion/Aspire Accessories collection at Elaine Turner and why?

WD: My favorite accessory in the collection has to be the Lucky Val choker. Not only is it beautiful, simple, timeless, and easy to wear, but I know the amazing young lady for whom it was named. Just thinking about Val brings a smile to my face. The necklace that carries her name furthers the good feelings and happiness when I wear it out in the world. (Plus, people always compliment me on it!! :))

ET: What have you learned since founding SoMo and what does the future hold?

WD: One of the differentiating factors about Social Motion and the Aspire program is the sense of community that we create for our families and their students. Denise and I like to be windows to the world for those raising children on the spectrum behind us. We truly hope what was once missing from our family’s lives will be available to those who follow us. We focus on life path needs.

We’re not perfect, we create, morph and adjust daily, but that’s life as we learn and accommodate and provide. We include students and their parents. We create events where they can celebrate their differences with age appropriate activities. We create a safe place for them to learn and grow. At the heart of it all, we create an environment where these great kids can achieve, feel a sense of self-esteem, believe that they have a place and purpose, and are valuable contributors to our community. We live our mission statement which is to transform the lives of those with social cognitive differences such as autism and other similar special needs.

Currently, my son Cameron (age 21) is completing his junior year at Texas Tech. The CASE program there provides just enough support while letting him spread his wings. Nick (Denise’s son, age 21) is a major producer and talented artisan in the Aspire Accessories workshop. Our long term goals are focused on housing options for our adult children with varying degrees of needs.

Be sure to check back next week. We’ll be chatting with Aspire Accessories Creative Director Denise Hazen!

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, I’d be thrilled if you’d share it. And don’t forget to follow and subscribe to Join the Collective!

A Sweet, Serendipitous Saturday at Social Motion Skills

Dear Friends-

As many of you know, it’s Autism Awareness Month and we will be focusing on the topic of autism, neurological disorders and special needs children this month on the blog. It’s ironic because this month snuck up on me. I have been going hard since January, working on my business and taking care of my family. You know, tackling the usual daily stressors that keep on coming. I find myself in reactive mode a lot lately, but two Saturdays ago I was awakened.

My son, Harrison and his group of friends had organized a community service project for their school. They had decided to team up with two incredible non profit organizations -– Kids Meals and Social Motion Skills. (Kids Meals delivers free, healthy meals to the doorsteps of Houston’s hungriest pre-school-aged children, and Social Motion Skills provides solutions and support to families and children living with autism, ADHD and similar social challenges.)

Harrison had briefly mentioned the project to me about a month or so ago, and at the time I remember feeling proud he was organizing this project as a way to give back. But if I’m being totally and completely honest, I didn’t really give it much thought. I was in fast-forward, action mode. I was focused on my life and getting it all done — Marlie’s therapies, my business, my parents … I guess you could say, I was trying to conquer my life. But sometimes God is asking us to get out of our vacuum and tune into what’s true.

Well, Friday afternoon rolled around and I received a text from Harrison saying, “Mom, don’t forget about tomorrow. You are chaperoning our community service project at Social Motion Skills.” I immediately texted back, “Oh okay,” trying to act like I remembered. Deep down I was thrilled he was doing this, but honestly I was exhausted from my week, wanted to sleep in, yet I knew I had to go to be there for him. I could sense this was important to him.

Something seemed different about this.

Well, as you could guess, the morning comes, my alarm goes off and I begrudgingly tap my phone to silence the ring tone. I grabbed my coffee and jumped in the car and headed off to meet Harrison and his friends. When I arrived, the kids from Harrison’s school began setting up and getting organized for the Social Motion kids to arrive. Their project for the day was for everyone to stuff goodie bags with healthy snacks for Kids Meals. In essence, one group was stepping up to serve another group and by joining forces, they were impacting the lives of others in need. The idea was a divine domino effect. It was a powerful example of showing how we all are here to serve each other.

As I was coming out of my Saturday morning haze, I began to realize the gift of what was happening. I started to feel a lightness come over me. I also started to feel myself accessing deep emotions. A wave of compassion, empathy and love began to sweep over me. At that moment, one of my best friends, Pam, walked in. She had a huge smile on her face and I said, “I didn’t know you were coming.” She replied, “I wouldn’t have missed it!” (Her son, Parker is one of Harrison’s best friends and Parker was also helping with the project.)

Well, seeing her and having her there made me even more emotional. I asked her how she knew about Social Motion Skills and she told me that Parker had volunteered for them several times. He was a part of their peer mentor group that met every Tuesday night. She told me how much he enjoyed it and my eyes began to tear up. I thought about how this generation is more aware of differences. They are more accepting of how we are all truly unique. When I was growing up, I felt like there were walls separating us from those who were not like us. But today, I see these walls crumbling. These kids don’t see the divisions like those before them had.

The Social Motion kids began to arrive. Many of them already knew Parker which made the transition easier. He was hugging them as they walked in and I was just filled with joy witnessing him embrace these children. As Stephen Shore says, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” All of the children had their own unique way of connecting with the group. One boy never lifted his head, another smiled and interacted with loud exuberance, another connected by talking about video games.

As the kids were all getting to know each other, a beautiful, charismatic woman walked in the room. You could see many of the kids faces instantly light up. She had the most magnificent energy. She was full of love, strength and joy. Her energy was enveloping. She called each of the kids by their names and she carried herself with such ease and joy. I was mesmerized by her.

I soon discovered as she introduced herself that she is the founder of Social Motion Skills. Her name is Wendy Dawson. Her twenty-one-year-old stepson has Asperger’s Syndrome and she started Social Motion Skills as a way to support him with his social skills. I walked over to introduce myself to her after she was done talking to the kids. She immediately said, “Wait, I know you! I love your stores and I know about your daughter.” Well, it hit me right then there — I knew God put me there that day. I felt a sense of peace wash over me knowing I was supposed to be there learning about this group and witnessing this incredible moment.

We immediately dove into all of our experiences with autism and special needs, and I told her all about Marlie and her unique struggles. She also shared with me her experiences with her stepson. It’s such a gift to share your stories with like minded, compassionate people.

She toured me around her space and told me all about the programs at Social Motion Skills. She was especially excited to share with me their partnership with Aspire Accessories. Aspire was started by Denise Hazen, another autism mom. I had met Denise several times in the past and had always thought she was the most creative, beautiful soul. Aspire Accessories operates as a program of Social Motion skills to provide training and job skills to those with autism and similar special needs in order that they may become taxpayers living fulfilled lives. As I was looking at what these kids were making, I was blown away. The pieces were stunning. She showed me handmade handbags, jewelry and home accessories.

I was inspired. After we were done touring, I asked her if she would be interested in teaming up for the month of April. We both screamed at the same time — YES! I had that “ah-ha” moment thing happen. I realized I had not partnered with anyone yet for Autism Awareness Month and it’s one of my most personal and passionate causes. I knew it had to be them. That’s why I was there. I needed them, they needed me. The divine domino effect was in full swing here.

As we started to wrap up the day, I sat watching the kids interact with one another. There was laughter, joyful conversation and true connection. For a minute, I forgot anyone in the room was different. It was like watching a mutually beneficial spiritual dance occur. Harrison and his group needed them just as much as they did. You could see perfectionism, insecurities, and inhibitions start to melt away as they all engaged with one another. It’s ironic because so many of us feel pity for people who are different or who might need more in some areas than we do, but in reality we all need each other.

Harrison and his peers are in a reality that’s very much focused on what they can control outside of themselves. It’s all about the tangible, material world around them. That can be a dangerous place to live. It’s hard to be filled up and at peace navigating in only one realm. So many young people today feel they are defined by the material world around them, by what they can see, touch or feel.

What school do I go to?
What kind of car do I drive?
What should I wear to cotillion?
Am I good enough?

As I watched the kids interact, all of that melts away. They all find the common denominator of simply being human together and partaking in the human experience as ONE. And watching Harrison and his friends let go of their walls and tune into their God given gifts of compassion and empathy brought me to my knees.

The pieces of the puzzle started to come together for me. Harrison has lived his entire lifetime witnessing the struggles of his sister. Seeing him take charge with his friends and willingly and freely put himself with these other children showed me he truly gets it. There is no separation.

As we were leaving, one of the young boys grabbed Harrison and said, “You are my friend, right?” And I saw Harrison’s eyes fill with tears and he immediately said, “Yes. Always.”

It is simple, my friends. Love is the answer.


P.S. If you enjoyed this post, I’d be thrilled if you’d share it. And don’t forget to follow and subscribe to Join the Collective!