Amazed by the progress her 3-year-old autistic son John made while wearing his weighted vest, mom Crystal Lyons started sewing them for free for other autistic kids. (Photo: Crystal Lyons)
When Crystal Lyons’ toddler son, John, was diagnosed with autism last year, the mother-of-two spent two weeks crying it out — then embraced the situation, making sure that John, now 3, received the help he needed, such as enrolling in sign language classes and occupational therapy.
“John had been developing normally until he was two, and then he became nonverbal, unable to communicate,” Lyons, of Elgin, South Carolina, tells Yahoo Parenting. “It was heartbreaking to see how he’d regressed, and I had no idea what the future held.”
Progress was slow going — until John’s occupational therapist gave him a weighted vest. Such vests are therapeutic aids that have been shown to produce a calming effect on kids who are on the autism spectrum. Lyons instantly saw this in her son. “His anxiety level quickly dropped and he was able to focus better,” she says.
Lyons looked into buying John a vest of his own that he could wear outside of therapy. But the cost — several hundred dollars — was beyond her family budget. So this resourceful mom came up with a crafty idea. “I thought, ‘why don’t I make him a vest?’ My husband is in the army and he has lots of old military uniforms around, and the heavier, soft material could be broken apart and made into something kid-size,” she says.
“I didn’t know anything about sewing, but I bought a machine and taught myself how to use it,” recalls Lyons. “I tore apart the seams and belt loops of the old uniform and stitched together a vest without a pattern, sewing pockets that could be weighted down with rolls of pennies.”
With a vest of his own, John continued making developmental leaps, picking up signs in his sign language class and talking occasionally, too. “I realized how much the vest helped John and that it could help other autistic kids as well,” she says.
It takes up to six hours for Crystal Lyons to sew each vest (Photo: Crystal Lyons)
Encouraged by her sister and friends and with help from donations of surplus military uniforms, Lyons put the word out to families and therapists in her community, offering to make a vest at no charge for any child in need. She called her non-profit venture Vests for Visionaries, after the kids who would wear them.
So far, she’s sewn and given away 142 vests, with orders coming from as far away as England and Australia. “I never thought it would explode like this,” she says. As Vests for Visionaries continues to grow, John too is blossoming. “He surprised us all by demonstrating that at just three years old, he can read,” his proud mom says.