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Feeding Mats Help Stabilize Mealtimes For Kids With Special Needs

Happier Meals

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Lindsey Laurain was a mom working in corporate America when her idea for the ezpz Happy Mat first came to mind. One night while the family was having dinner, as her three boys were dropping plates and creating a huge mess, her husband said in frustration, ‘someone needs to invent something that these guys can’t toss and throw”. It was then that a solution began to take shape in her mind. Laurain researched her idea and studied up on creating a business. In 2014, she launched her company selling a silicone all-in-one placemat and plate that suctions securely to a table or counter. She didn’t realize at the time that she was also developing a product that could change the lives of families living with developmental disabilities.

Therapeutic Possibilities

With her product idea posted on Kickstarter, Laurain heard from a couple of people about unique purposes the mats could serve. One direct message came from Dawn Winkelmann, a speech and language pathologist and feeding expert who worked with children with special needs. Winkelmann saw the potential for the mat to assist with feeding problems and eventually became a part of the ezpz team.

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The team first researched feeding milestones and molded the mat to accommodate children at different stages, considering portion sizes, finger dexterity and distance of the mat to the child. In November 2015, they started to explore the mat’s therapeutic possibilities. “It was a new area for us as a company,” says Laurain. “Now it’s a huge part of what we do.”

The team discovered that the tight suction of the mat to the table gave kids something secure to grab on to while eating, and helped stabilize them. “A lot of kids with special needs have an eating or swallowing problem,” Winkelmann says. “If the child is not at the midline (a neutral position of the trunk, head and neck) when they are eating, they can choke very easily. Our product keeps kids at midline and gives them something to hold on to keep them at midline throughout the whole meal.”

The mat also brought security to some children with ‘low tone’ or low abdominal muscle strength, such as those with Down syndrome or autism, who may slouch or lose their balance during mealtime. “They have a high rate of slipping out of their chairs and falling face first, which can cause even more difficulties with feeding because they”ve had this psychological trauma from the fall,” says Winkelmann. “They can grab on to the product and keep their balance better.”

Safe for All Kids

According to Winkelmann, Happy Mats have been recognized as a safety feature product for kids with special needs. The mats are BPA, BPS, PVC and phthalate free as well as dishwasher, microwave and oven safe. Made of hypoallergenic silicone, the mats won’t harbor bacteria, making them safe for children with celiac disease or food allergies.

More Efforts For Special Kids

Through their product research, Laurain and Winkelmann connected with the Changing the Face of Beauty campaign. The campaign works with companies to include individuals with disabilities in general advertising and the media. Currently, ezpz includes kids with Down syndrome on their packaging, on the website and in commercials. “It’s fun to be part of this movement that is going on nationwide — and soon to be more globally as well — to put kids with special needs in the spotlight,” says Laurain.

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Winkelmann enriches the product line by writing a weekly feeding blog (ezpzfun.com) and does live chats to help educate parents about all kinds of feeding issues. They hear often from parents that the product has changed not only their child’s life, but also their own. “You make a product and then make a difference in people’s lives and it is pretty gratifying,” says Laurain. “It keeps us motivated.”

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