MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) — Landon Smith turned 11 at the beginning of October. However, instead of asking family and friends for presents, for the past four years, he has made a wishlist on Amazon for other children.
It’s filled with sensory-friendly items handpicked by Landon and his family.
“I like to help people,” Landon said.
“Whether they’re sensory tubes, blocks — they all do something that has helped Landon throughout his life,” Landon’s father, Chris said.
Landon has autism. It is a wide spectrum in terms of development. Oftentimes, there can be sensitivities to everyday circumstances like loud noises, bright lights and crowded spaces.
For both children and adults, it can be overwhelming. That overstimulation can lead to a sensory overload, and subsequently, a meltdown that can cause feelings similar to a panic attack.
Items like stress balls and headphones can provide comfort and help to soothe someone in a high-stress environment. Landon said being armed with sensory items like Loop earplugs, makes him feel safe.
“With a lot of these items, to be able to cope with everyday functions, that you can go out to eat. You can go to the park,” Chris said.
“You can do different things that a neurotypical person may not have an issue with — and without them you may not be wanting to try,” Landon’s mom Lauren added.
Sensory items can also aid in the development of a child.
Landon was told he would be nonverbal. His parents credit the Lord, therapy, and trial-and-error tools with helping him become the chatty 11-year-old he is today.
The Smiths know, however, that not every family has access to these things. That’s why Landon’s Puzzle Pieces was started four years ago.
His parents call Landon’s differences his superpowers because of his ability to see the world differently than many people. Therapy and sensory tools have become his weapons to sharpen those superpowers.
For his 8th birthday, he asked his parents how he could help other kids strengthen their superpowers too.
“He is constantly looking for someone to help. He is always seeing people,” Lauren said. “There’s been a lot of hard work, therapy, advocating for doors to open for him. And for him to see that what he is doing with [his] superpowers, and placing in them children just like him… it is all for the glory of God that he is able to do it.”
Now, Landon’s Puzzle Pieces is expanding. In the past, it has been centered in North Alabama. This year, however, Chris’ workplace, Edward Jones, is helping collect items all over the state, which will be distributed with the help of Autism Support of Alabama.
It’s even helping kids beyond the Tennessee Valley through an organization called Pathfinders. An NFL football player heard about Landon’s Puzzle Pieces and is now helping out for a second year, spreading the love to kids in Maryland too.
“Through a wonderful series of events, one of the players for the Baltimore Ravens, Justin Madubuike, has actually been involved as well. Helping to gather up a lot of items and they’re going to be taking those items to inner city schools in Baltimore,” Chris said.
Landon is thrilled to know kids from all over will get access to toys similar to what has helped him.
“I want to give gifts to kids all over the world!” he said.
His parents say those tools can make an equally big impact on parents of children with special needs.
“With the swing in therapy. With headphones, with Loop, with stress balls — you see the wave of calm wash over your kid and you think, ‘there’s peace.’ There is no amount of value I could put on an item that gives my child peace,” Lauren said. “Knowing that ripple effect is reaching and providing peace for the children. Peace and knowing that you’re seen as a parent of a special needs child, that’s bigger, and more, than I could ever imagine hoping for.”
She said as Landon gets older it’s important to explain why helping people matters.
“We told Landon there are moments in your life where you come across difficult things. Everyone has ‘hard.’ Everyone goes through hard things, that’s part of being a human, but it’s what you allow God to do through those hard things that matter. When you allow God to take your ‘hard’ to help others, that’s where you find purpose,” Lauren said.
Since Landon’s Puzzle Pieces is expanding, Chris and Lauren have extended the ‘donate by’ date to the first of the year. Gifts can be purchased through this Amazon wishlist, or by ordering items and shipping them to 120 W Dublin Drive, Suite 103, Madison, AL 35758.
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