A boy with autism inspires a family business

A Fresno County couple's struggle to help their young autistic son live a normal life led them to create 'Fly Kidz.'
April 28, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
Sometimes inspiration and success comes in the most unexpected ways. For one Fresno County couple, it was their struggle to help their young autistic son live a normal life that pointed them in the right direction and led them to create a company called "Fly Kidz."

Just a couple of years after opening its doors in Downtown Reedley, business is booming at Jacklyn Dee Boutique. The popular clothing and accessories store is owned by Jacklyn and Jose Escoto. It came to be not through planning and market research, but through circumstance and their young son.

"He didn't pick up his head until he was about 5 months; he sat up at about 9 months; he crawled at a year, and Ian didn't start walking until he was 18 months," Jacklyn said.

Jacklyn knew there was something wrong with their first born, Ian, but it took years and several tests for them to finally get a diagnosis. Ian suffered from a rare form of autism.

"From one day to the next I stopped working, and that's when I stayed home and became a full-time mom," Jacklyn said.

The Escotos were initially reluctant to enroll Ian in public school -- afraid he may not get the individualized attention he needed -- and scared he'd be bullied because of his delayed speech development.

"It was terrifying even for a dad to think what if someone hits him? He can't come home and tell me 'hey Dad, someone hit me,' or 'hey, someone's picking on me.' There is no communication whatsoever, so you have to live every day thinking what's happening at school?" Jose said.

Jacklyn became Ian's voice -- meeting with teachers, school psychologists and school administrators at Parlier Unified, where Ian is in a regular first-grade class, learning alongside boys and girls his age, and twice a day he meets with a special education teacher.

Ms. Betancourt says Ian has exceeded her expectations.

"Now he can look at 3 plus 5 and just do it in his head ? 8. Or even 2 digit and one digit numbers together -- he is able to do that in his head now. So that is a big improvement in his math skills," Monica Betancourt said.

Now a stay-at-home mom, Jacklyn decided she needed a hobby where she could use her fashion merchandising degree. So the family bought a T-shirt printing machine -- not knowing Ian would be their first "client."

"One of his stimulations was keeping his clothes on, so any time we would get home or be anywhere, he would undress himself. So it was really hard for him to keep clothes on. Well, Jose actually made him a shirt," Jacklyn said.

"Yeah, I made him a Power Ranger shirt," Jose said.

Ian loved it. He kept it on all day, and he wanted a new one the next day.

"Moms would stop my wife when she would pick him up from school and say 'where'd you get that shirt? We made it. 'What do you mean you made it?'" Jose said.

Soon, the couple was taking orders and selling out fast. Ian was their business partner, choosing the colors and designs of their new brand Fly Kidz. They soon added women's clothing, and when they outgrew their first location, Jose, too, quit his job.

"It was one of those like where you literally roll the dice, but I had really good feelings on the potential of this store," Jose said.

That gamble is paying off. Fly Kidz is flying off store shelves, and Ian, too, is soaring.

To the other kids at tee-ball practice, he's just one of them, a regular kid, and his mom hopes other families find inspiration in that.

"Just because you have a child with disabilities you can't stop your life; you can't let it be the end of your career or the end of your life and keeping your child sheltered the whole time. Let them be! Give them the opportunity to be a normal child," Jacklyn said.

The Escotos tell me they've been approached by TLC to do a reality show about Ian and their company. They are considering the offer because they want to increase awareness on autism.

And they also want to help other parents who may be struggling, so they've set up a charity foundation. If you'd like more information, visit www.facebook.com/flykidzclothing.

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