Shannon Sullivan’s daughter was diagnosed with autism at a younger age than many—she was only two years old at the time. “She is more on the severe end and she is nonverbal,” Sullivan explains, ‘so the diagnosis came more quickly.” Sullivan says she was grateful for an early diagnosis, but it was just the beginning in figuring out which therapies, products, and methods could help her daughter.
After the diagnosis in 2004, Sullivan lived with her parents for a year. Her father, especially, watched her do research, consult with doctors, and spend hours locating specific products at different stores that could be used for therapy at home. “One day (my dad) asked, ‘What if we had a store?” Sullivan remembers. As the owner of a wholesale watchband company, her dad knew how to run a business and meet a need.
In 2007, Sullivan and her father co-founded Autism Community Store as an online-only store that shared warehouse space with the watchband company. It was the only one of its kind in the country at the time, and “we began to have more and more customers show up at the warehouse,” Sullivan says. They realized they needed a storefront, and in 2010, it opened to the public.
Today, Autism Community Store is a resource for hard-to-find products for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as visual learners and individuals with communication or sensory processing challenges. It stocks teaching tools, products to meet sensory needs, books, supplements, and more.
Online ordering is available, but families who visit the store will benefit the most. “It’s a social enterprise as well as a store,” Sullivan says. “We talk to customers about resources in the community, help them problem solveand understand that there is no quick fix.”
Weighted blankets are a top seller; the store also carries a wide range of fidget toys and “wiggle seat” products. “The advantage of being able to try things out is huge,” Sullivan says. Customers can try out the ‘sensory cave” demo room, designed to create a calming, multi-sensory environment.
In addition, the store offers monthly classes on topics such as back-to-school survival and navigating the health care system, as well as a monthly sibling support group, facilitated in part by Sullivan’s son. Around the holidays, children can visit Santa Claus—trained by the Autism Society of Colorado—at the store. “We don’t have the children wait in line, we just keep track of them as they come in,” Sullivan adds. In May, the store hosts a resource fair that brings together about 70 providers of special needs services and products.
Customers have come as far as Albuquerque to visit the store, and it has regular visitors from Cheyenne, too. “We hear from a lot of people, ‘thank you for being here” and ‘I”ve been meaning to come in for so long”, ” Sullivan says. “There is a feeling of gratitude from parents who visit.”
Check it Out
7800 E. Iliff Ave., Suite J, Denver
Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Need to know
The Autism Community Store’s highly trained staff consists of parents of children with autism, former therapists, and individuals on the autism spectrum themselves.