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Mom whose son has autism is developing a non-profit to make free, handmade sensory kits for families

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Posted at 4:30 PM, Apr 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-25 17:50:48-04

BALTIMORE — "It’s really therapeutic, it’s a complete stress reliever."

Nikki Stokes is quick with the knitting needles, but its her crochet work that really shines. She can use a crochet hook to make elaborate patches on clothing, posters and the usual accessories like scarves and hats.

"You feel good when you’re making things, and colors make you feel a certain way and textures make you feel a certain way," she said.

Stokes started to crochet when her son Roman was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. At first, it was simply a way to relax. Her hobby then became a way to pay for Roman's care, when she started casually selling what she made.

"I was never trying to own a business, it was letting me pay for the things my son needs."

She did eventually start a business, HGE Designs, and now she's working on a philanthropic arm to her company, inspired by Roman, called The Puzzling Disorder Project.

"I’ve always been the type of person like how can I help? How can I make a situation better than when I got there?" she said.

She said the idea stemmed from the pandemic, when Roman was forced to stay home from school. Stokes realized he was lacking the sensory tools and rooms he had at school to help calm and relax him.

She made Roman his own sensory room, complete with crocheted sensory items like weighted blankets.

"This is what he uses at school, how can we package it in a way that when you’re not in school, you have access to it."

Right now, she's working on a prototype for a sensory kit to provide to families for free and sell to places like schools, hospitals and clinics.

"Just a sensory kit with some tools there to help them better manage so they can experience other things in the community that other families get to experience 48:30

Stokes is working with the Social Innovation Lab at Johns Hopkins University to get the Puzzling Disorder Project off the ground, putting her vision into the hands of families just like her's.

"I know other people need it, so its my duty and I’m not suppose to hold onto it, I’m suppose to share it."

You can learn more about the Puzzling Disorder Project and the other 2021-2022 cohorts of the Social Innovation Lab at an Accelerator Showcase on Tuesday April 26 at 5 p.m. For more details about how to watch it in-person or online, click here.