Language and communication development is one of the greatest challenges facing children with special needs and their families. Especially for people growing up, for example, with autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome or attention deficit disorder, conveying their needs, preferences and feelings can be very complex and generate frustration in them and their environment.
It was precisely that experience teaching her eldest son, the motivation for Yenifer Gómez (34) to create her enterprise “El Gallinero Material Educativo”. Today, this entrepreneur from Maipú offers with her SME activity books, manuals and guides to facilitate the development of communication and learning of children with different educational needs.
“The venture was started by my son Maximiliano, who is now 12 years old and was diagnosed with autism at the age of two and a half. After the diagnosis he entered a special school. From that moment on I started to inform myself, since I didn’t have much knowledge about autism”, says Yenifer.
That is how she began to make guides and activities to reinforce her son’s learning at home. “They were very basic materials at the beginning, cards made of cardboard and lined with packing paper because at that time I didn’t have a thermo-laminator. Other parents from the same school became interested in my son’s material and asked me for the same. I saw it as an opportunity, because with a child with conditions that made him very dependent, it was difficult for me to generate income”.
To specialize and make more professionalized material, the entrepreneur took a course to learn about the Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS. “This system is used by many children who are nonverbal in the first instance. It works by means of pictograms and images through which the children are able to communicate,” says Yenifer.
Currently in her enterprise she sells communication material based on the PECS system, as well as materials, folders and thermo-laminated, cloth and paper activity books, to be used in special education for children with autism, Down syndrome or different types of intellectual disabilities at pre-school and elementary school levels.
“I make and design all the materials from scratch. A characteristic of children with autism is that sometimes they have certain obsessions with some specific characters or drawings. That is why, in addition to standardized books, I also make personalized designs such as princesses, Cars, Plants Versus Zombies, etc. This way they are studying but playing at the same time”, says the entrepreneur.
With the aim of expanding her business and the products she offered, in 2020 Yennifer applied for and received support from the Luksic Foundation’s Impulso Inicial program. “I was working with a printer that worked with cartridge loading, which meant that I had to load it every few prints. I changed it for a printer with a large-format continuous system, which allows me to work much faster and reproduces images and colors with better quality,” he says, adding that they also acquired a large banding machine, with which he can print larger books.
The program Impulso Inicial of Fundación Luksic has supported more than three thousand people and non-profit organizations since its creation in 2018. Its objective is to deliver different types of inputs, implements, tools, and machinery according to the specific needs of each person. “The story of Yenifer and her entrepreneurship is a great example of the contribution we want to make from Fundación Luksic through Impulso Inicial. Our goal is to support entrepreneurs and athletes throughout Chile who, with conviction, move forward with their projects, positively impacting their communities in different ways,” said Macarena Van Dorsee, director of the program.
For Yennifer, one of the greatest satisfactions that her enterprise gives her is the effect that the PECS communication material has on the children and families: “It is a 100% change. It gives children the main tools to be able to communicate, which is essential for human beings and changes the quality of life of the whole family. In addition, from this system with images, many children begin to speak”.
The entrepreneur adds that she herself was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as an adult. “I would like this venture to be a reference for many adults with ASD that we can achieve many things, that it would be an inspiration for them to believe in themselves and for others to give them the opportunities they need,” she says.
In the future, Yennifer wants to offer her material in colleges and special schools, in addition to making material for children in Braille. “Another of my big dreams, and the reason I want my business to keep growing, is because I would like to give jobs to people with disabilities, since there is a big gap for them in the labor market.