I had just given birth to my fourth child, Chevy, when my mother visited me in hospital and broke the news that my third child, Jett, then aged two, had been diagnosed with autism, sensory processing disorder, developmental delay, and officially classed as non-verbal.
I had only managed to organise three autism assessments for Jett before complications with unborn Chevy forced me to hospital eight weeks earlier than planned. That’s why my mother had taken Jett for his fourth assessment, and then had to inform me of the heartbreaking news.
It was hard! When you have a child with autism, you are basically just informed of the fact, and that’s it. It feels like there is nobody there for you. I was virtually housebound, and about eight months into it, Jett was banging his head and had to wear a helmet. Jett had no sense of danger, and as soon as we made something safe for him in our two-storey house, he started on another unpredictable activity. My husband was at work by 6 am and I was trying to deal with this on my own, with a newborn baby as well.
Jett was having up to 12 meltdowns a day and I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Tearful and desperate, I needed to find something to help Jett stay calm, focused and responsive to language and instructions.
My OT had recommended a thick vest (made from wetsuit fabric) but warned me that Jett could only wear it for twenty minutes a day, before he’d build a resistance to it. I noticed the vest helped calm Jett, and when my two eldest children came home to see their brother, their first comment was, “Mum, what did you do to calm him?” This was a lightbulb moment – if this compression could calm Jett, there must be a better product out there that he could wear all day.
I wanted a product that would gently self-regulate him and could be worn discreetly under regular clothing every day, and for all seasons. I started researching, but my global search couldn’t locate a suitable sensory-based garment for children with special needs.
Fifteen years earlier, I had a sun-protective clothing business, initially manufacturing the garments in Suva, before building production to make it viable to produce in Newcastle, NSW.
Now, here I was again, tracking down my rag-trade contacts and researching fabrics.
Eventually, with the assistance of professionals I designed Calmtex, a lightweight, breathable, high-quality fabric specifically for sensory care. I developed the fabric to have the right type of compression to help children with autism, ADHD and sensory processing disorder, to keep their sensory system calm, and help everything make sense.
I tested early prototypes of the singlet on Jett. The results were stunning. One morning as I dressed Jett I remember thinking, I’m so glad it’s Jett-proof – so, JettProof became our business name!
Over the course of a week when I kept him clothed 24/7 in the JettProof singlet, I watched as his meltdowns diminished and then vanished. Moving through the aisles of the local supermarket, my husband and I wept as we watched Jett walk calmly beside our trolley. Months earlier, a change in the colour of a tile on a supermarket floor was enough to prompt a meltdown.
Initially, I manufactured and dispatched the JettProof range from my garage. It only took a week or so for the mothers’ grapevine to kick in, along with Facebook testimonials. As the feedback came in, I realised I was selling a solution, not a just a singlet.
Everyone in my team knows Jett very well and understands autism. A lot of them worked in my garage before we moved to our commercial premises.
Initially, I sold JettProof clothing and undergarments in Australia, but now they are sent worldwide. From humble beginnings, JettProof has dramatically grown its business and production since launching in 2014 and now has offices in the UK, the US and Canada.
My target market is individuals and families living with autism, sensory processing disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, ADD, ADHD, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Rett syndrome and anxiety. JettProof is not only a sensory calming range, it is a support network and customers are always asking for advice.
When people meet us for the first time, we are often greeted with a heartfelt thank you, and sometimes tears. We love being able to help so many families. We have received hundreds of positive testimonials from our customers, whose lives have changed for the better through wearing JettProof.
The passion for what we do grows every day and we are always on the lookout for new ways to help individuals and families. Helping other people has helped me heal and grow into the women I have become. I am passionate about changing the lives of children and adults with sensory conditions and feel like I am now living my purpose.
Michelle Ebbin is the director of JettProof, the business she created four years ago manufacturing and selling unique specialised calming, sensory compression undergarments that have positively changed the lives of many children and adults living with autism, sensory processing disorder, ADHD and anxiety. Visit www.jettproof.com