Meet Isaiah and Tiffany. Isaiah is a Special Olympics Virginia athlete who participates in his local Sea Lions swim team, and Tiffany is his mother. Isaiah absolutely loves being a Special Olympian, but his participation with SOVA wasn't exactly planned.
Tiffany, Isaiah's mother, was looking for a volunteer opportunity to give Isaiah work experience and allow him to earn his student service-learning hours. They found an adaptive swimming ad at a local recreation center and Isaiah was excited about the possibility of getting involved. The opportunity just so happened to be assisting other Special Olympics Virginia swimmers with learning swimming drills and providing overall encouragement and support for the athletes. Isaiah was having way too much fun in the swimming classes, so after nearly 8 volunteer sessions, he decided to join the swim team and become an official Special Olympics athlete. Here is the story of how Isaiah inspired his mother to create a powerful brand that will give him, and other people with disabilities, the opportunity to succeed.
I wanted to do swimming races and compete with my other friends. I thought it would be cool to be part of a swimming team for the first time.
Autism Acceptance Month 2022: Mission to Secure Futures for Those with Disabilities
By Tiffany Hamilton
How far will a mother go for her son? There are no limits for Tiffany Hamilton. Her inspiration for starting a new business is her son, Isaiah.
“He’s amazing,” she says. “He designs video games. He’s an A-B student. And he’s just a super funny, kind-hearted young man.”
But despite Isaiah’s many gifts, the reality is that he, like millions of other people with disabilities, will struggle in the working world.
And Tiffany is doing just that. Together, Tiffany and Isaiah launched a new apparel brand, Victor Wear on World Autism Awareness Day. Victor Wear is an inspirational activewear brand that celebrates victors and amplifies their stories of resilience.
I'm gonna do everything in my power to ensure that he can survive and thrive in this world.
She defines victors as people who overcome obstacles and achieve their goals through grit, determination, and tenacity. In many ways, this definition summarizes her autism journey with Isaiah.
Family’s Journey to Diagnosis
Beginning at just 12 months old, Tiffany expressed concerns that Isaiah wasn't trying to walk. Her pediatrician dismissed her concerns as first-time mother worries. But Tiffany trusted her instincts and insisted on her son being evaluated. That evaluation led to a diagnosis of developmental delays that qualified Isaiah for her state's free early intervention program.
“I think that was one of the worst days of my life. It felt like my worst fears were coming true,” Tiffany says. “But at the same time, I was grateful to be able to get him the help he needed, and I felt that he just needed a little therapy to get his development on track.”
But little did Tiffany know that her autism journey was just beginning. Years of social skills groups, occupational and speech therapy followed. And on top of that, it would take years - and several different schools - for Isaiah to find the right academic formula for his visual and experiential learning style. Tiffany even moved across the country to get Isaiah the education she felt he needed.
"It was hard. We dealt with it all. Struggles with classes that were too large. Bullying in school. And in middle school especially, Isaiah struggled with feeling like a misfit because of his autism”, she says. “I had to teach him that he's so much more than autism and that he needed to love all parts of himself. It took time for him to work through that."
The Need for a Perspective Shift Towards Acceptance
But he wasn’t the only one struggling; Tiffany was too. As a single mother who coped with her own challenges, like the heartbreaking losses of her sister and mother and difficult divorce, it was hard to keep it all together at times. And she had to realize that no matter how many therapies, schools, or specialists she threw at Isaiah's autism, she couldn't change it. She had to fully accept his diagnosis, so she could teach him to do the same.
She also had to keep her own anxiety in check. “As a mother of a black son, I fear every day for his safety. Autism makes him even more vulnerable in his encounters with police and with the world in general,” she says. “At times that fear can be overwhelming, but it also makes me determined to help him be all he can be.”
Today, both Isaiah and Tiffany are thriving. Not only is Isaiah an A student, but he’s also on a swimming and bowling team, and even does voice acting and video game coding as hobbies. But these victories have been hard-fought.
"I never gave up on his potential, no matter how challenging it got. And we never gave up on each other,” Tiffany says. “We were in it together, and we were determined to win.”
3 Ways of Building Victors’ Futures
And now, Tiffany and Isaiah want to inspire others to do the same. The mission of Victor Wear is to inspire triumph over obstacles and empower underserved communities (people with disabilities, minorities, and the LGBTQ community) to be victorious. They fulfill this mission by:
- Selling apparel that inspires resilience - In addition to prominently featuring their logo, Victor Wear's hoodies and tees include inspirational slogans to motivate positive actions toward goals.
- Empowering victors - 10% of every Victor Wear product sold goes to Special Olympics.
- Creating a vibrant victor community - Via their website and social channels, they aim to build a community of victors who share motivational content and inspire each other.
Ultimately, they want to become a global brand and major employer of people with disabilities.
"I want Victor Wear to be a place where Isaiah can work and where people just like him can work. I know we are just starting, but that is our goal," says Tiffany.
But in the meantime, they have many plans to grow their business while also doing a lot of social good.
“In the near future, we will be holding T-shirt and slogan contests. We will give the winner of the contests the profits from the T-shirts sold. Additionally, we will be looking to the disability community for staffing at events and brand ambassador opportunities, Tiffany says. “And soon, we’ll be expanding our inspiring collection with several new motivational tees. We’re super excited.”
Learn more about Victor Wear