When Aviva Weiss noticed there was not much to offer children with sensory processing disorders when it came to playtime, she took matters into her own hands.
Weiss has lived in Lower Merion for 12 years since moving from her native New York, working as an occupational therapist since 2003.
She and her husband, Haskel, raised six children, one of whom provided the impetus for what has now become Fun and Function, LLC, a locally based company. The child has a sensory processing disorder, which refers to the way the nervous system “receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses, according to a definition from the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation. Weiss was not satisfied with what was available for her.
“Even though I was working with families, I realized the solutions and products available were not very appealing,” she recalled.
Many of the options were bulky or did not fit in with other toys.
“I remember looking through the catalogs and the existing companies and thinking, ‘Why would I want her to stand out even more?’ ”
Ultimately, she explained, she felt compelled to start what became Fun and Function “to create something that didn’t exist.”
The idea came to her and her husband in 2005 and was not without its difficulties, as neither of them had a background that lent to starting a company.
“It took a long time,” Weiss said. “None of us had a business background. It’s a ton of work, but there’s so much information online and if you’re willing to work hard and willing to learn from your mistakes, I find it doable.”
They put their own money into it at first and built it up from there. And it has been growing every year since their first offering hit the market two years later.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to do something that helps people,” she said. “It’s so satisfying. This is my livelihood, but I’m also helping people.”
Watching the company succeed has also been a highlight for her. “It’s also amazing to see it just grow up. It’s almost like watching a kid grow,” she said. “I can’t believe we created that. It gave people opportunity and actually created better stuff for people. It’s very gratifying if you look back.”
According to the company website, funandfunction.com, 60 percent of the products it has developed are made in-house for those “on the autism spectrum, with sensory processing disorders, speech/developmental delays, and other challenges.”
Weiss works with doctors and therapists to develop products that would be effective. She also works with schools to help them find products that will fit their students’ needs.
“The ultimate goal is to make something that is socially appropriate and looks appropriate to any child,” she said, “Just because they have to chew on their shirt doesn’t mean they have to look weird.”
The first product they ever made remains the company’s top-selling item: a weighted vest, which is a product she had once needed for her own family, which provides a pressured squeeze like a tight hug for the child to help them stay calm so they can learn more effectively.
All of the products are featured online under different categories, which is one way customers can order them, in addition to a direct-mail catalog.
To ensure these products are the best they can be, Weiss encourages and values feedback. In fact, she might even call you if you’ve ordered something to see how it’s working.
She always wants to find out what’s working well and what can be improved. The feedback can even inspire new ideas.
“There’s always products in the pipeline,” she said. “The wheel never stops.”
Chew toys are also a big seller, and she has worked to make them more interactive. Putty, which helps develop hand muscles, is another popular item. Discovery Putty, for example, comes in different themes and has pieces for the kids to find as they are playing, all the while helping develop motor planning.
She works to make sure the products are more play-oriented so as to help the children using them learn in a way that’s comfortable for them.
“It’s really to make it fun so that kids really learn through play,” she said. “If you’re able to use what kids do best at and developing with, it’s play. And if you’re able to incorporate therapeutic abilities within play, it’s more appropriate.”
While the business continues to grow, Weiss remains optimistic, knowing that overnight success doesn’t really happen, well, overnight.
“One very smart person once said to me, ‘Overnight success is a process and it takes a lot of work. Success is also based on little decisions you make,’ ” she remembered.
Products are not made in bulk order, she said, as the process of tweaking and hearing feedback is crucial for production.
She added that she’s “grateful” when she hears from a parent that they are satisfied with the product and that it is helping.
“At the end of the day, I want to know we’re making a difference and we’re helping kids.”
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