From bullied to brilliant, autistic boy’s $300k idea stuns
As an 11-year-old boy with autism struggling to cope with anxiety, Kai Seymon relied on fidgeting with a long tangle to help calm his nerves.
But the colourful instrument also caught the eye of bullies at school who ruthlessly picked on him for being different.
The abuse almost became too much for the young boy - confiding in his mother Joanne who told news.com.au his depression was heartbreaking as Kai began to question his place in society.
He wanted to avoid the spotlight from his merciless peers but was unable to forego the tension relief provided by the fidget, so he decided to make his own more discreet device.
"I used some fidgets at school and people were teasing me for it," the softly spoken Kaiko Fidgets creator, now 14, said during a phone interview from his home in Melbourne's western suburbs.
"I decided to make something that was more suitable for my age group, and that's where I got the fidgets idea from."
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At the very first market stall he ran three years ago, Kai sold 75 devices and the business has rapidly expanded since.
His simple but brilliant idea has allowed both his parents to quit their jobs to focus on inventory after selling hundreds of thousands of products out of the family's home.
The business turned over more than $300,000 in the last financial year.
Joanne, a trained occupational therapist, was uniquely positioned to understand how beneficial the simple release a fidget can offer someone who suffers with debilitating mental health issues.
Demand for fidgets has rocketed this year as the country grapples with the sudden and crippling anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
"In this COVID period I think a lot of us who probably don't necessarily identify with having anxiety or mental health issues have really struggled," Joanne said.
"For many who have been displaced or are working remotely from home, all of a sudden the things that support our mental health like social contact and even walking and exercise, has fallen away because of the strict rules."
She said many customers have suddenly adopted physically destructive habits such as picking at skin until blood surfaces, and, in more extreme cases, cutting of the skin.
Fidgets may appear simple, but they offer a sensory relief to assist those suffering with anxiety and depression.
"The tools that we've developed, because they're suitable for adults and they're discreet, they can really support people to minimise or eliminate those behaviours," Kai's mother said.
"They're providing the same support but not doing it in a way that is not helpful or is harmful."
Creating and helping to run the business has also provided a huge boost to Kai's development.
"He's gone from being a haunted 11-year-old boy who would tell himself daily that he didn't want to be here to someone confident and comfortable in his skin," Joanne said.
"This business has given him purpose and he's so proud that he has become an inspiration to others."
Kai's entrepreneurial talents earned him selection as a finalist for the 7 News 'Generation Us' Small Business Young Achiever Victorian Awards. The winner will be announced this Friday.
It's a phenomenal achievement for a boy who was plucked out of regular classes by his teachers and pushed into a special needs curriculum.
Joanne said she's "completely blown away" by the recognition Kai is receiving.
"It's reinforcement to Kai that he is successful and dyslexia and being autistic doesn't limit you," she said.
"You can really do and achieve anything you want to do. You just have to be passionate about something and go after it."
Before Kai was identified as a promising young businessman, his dream was to become a police officer. And his emergence on the national stage is yet to change his mind.
"I want to do both," he said.
Originally published as 11-year-old autistic boy's $300k idea