We recently encountered Little Heroes and fell in love with the mission that founder Daria Kozhukhar has for the company she founded in 2018. Inspired by her own autistic son, Daria felt the need to create a practical, aesthetically appealing visual learning aid to help parents, educators guide kids to engage, interact, learn, manage and progress into their teens and young adult life. These Little Heroes visual learning aids has helped Daria and her son transition the day to day tasks and routines. She hopes to inspire others to have a greater awareness of the world in which autistic kids live in and through these Little Hero cards allow other parents like herself find solutions to cater to interacting, and educating their young ones. We had the opportunity to speak to Daria recently to learn more about her journey and for this holiday season they are having a Christmas sale!
PJ: Hi Daria, could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Daria: Hi. I am originally Russian and have lived in Asia since 2006 and feel like this has become my home. Currently, I am based in Bali, previously I was living in Hong Kong and China. I am truly appreciating Asian philosophy and approach to life and feel it has moulded me into a different person over the years.
PJ: What were you doing prior to starting Little Heroes?
Daria: I was working in a big multinational corporation in China, that was the reason why I came to Asia in the first place and later in a few smaller tech companies in customer service, business training, marketing and sales, and then client management. I had to stop working at some point when my son was officially diagnosed with autism, around 3 years old. Because none of the kindergartens in China would accept a child with special needs, it was a very tough period of time but also in the process, I started creating my Little Heroes products. The visually-based communication system is the basics to start working with children with autism and help them navigate through the day, but funny enough I couldn't find a single complete product to buy and use straight away. It was just a fun personal project at the beginning that grew into a brand and a company over the years. I relocated to HK when my son was 6 years old, because at this point to be in a structured educational environment was crucial for his overall development. And not only I wanted to get back to the working environment but because of the cost of living in Hong Kong, it was much needed. When I moved to Hong Kong I had an opportunity to finally change the industry as technology companies were not really exciting for me but the first job has set the path I guess. I joined the F&B company where I met Tamara, one of my valuable team members, and a partner. She helps me a lot with a global marketing strategy, operations, and management. There is one more team member in Little Heroes, my friend Ksenia, who lives in China and is handling the production matters, quality control, managing the China sales and distribution. I don't know what I would do without these ladies. I guess that also makes us a women-only company.
PJ: What is Little Heroes?
Daria: I often get asked about the brand name and how I picked it. At some point when my son just got diagnosed, I was reading a lot of inspirational literature and articles to learn more about the condition and experiences of other parents like me. Somewhere I came across this little quote "Sometimes real superheroes live in the hearts of small children fighting big battles”, it touched me so much and actually made me think of how it's even harder for them to cope with life and the world around them. Little Heroes is more than just a brand and a company, it's a movement and expansion of the idea that being different is a part of normality. Besides just the product we pay a lot of attention to bring awareness to society about special needs, their abilities, and ways to fit into the community. Even taking into consideration the fact that everyone learns and absorbs information differently is a point to bring across, the idea of "talking" to your special needs children in many other ways than only speech. The body language, gestures, picture based information is what helps tremendously and unfortunately, it puts a lot of pressure on parents not having it easily available and thought through. Imagine you work and manage daily life anyway, and on top of that, you need to learn new ways to reach out to your child and find that inventory to support these efforts. Thus, Little Heroes was born, I started this project as I had to print tons of pictures, sometimes draw for my kid in the notebook, and help him to deal with daily life in a calmer and less stressful way, but imagine how much more stress it created for me. I got frustrated that even though the number of children diagnosed with autism or other special needs keep growing the support in educational supplies was so minimal. I was living in China at that point so it was a perfect place to create something and bring it to life.
PJ: What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered when starting this business and what did you learn from it?
Daria: To be honest it was fairly easy to start as it was more of a fun project to try and see whether I can come up with something useful and how I could make it simplified for parents and educators. I went through several attempts to create the product you see now, starting from making sure the content is complete and essential, to figuring out the best size, shape, materials, and even the packaging. It might look like such a simple product but if you look at it from the perspective of functionality and accessibility for young children, a lot of things had to be very well planned. Those were exciting things to figure out and create. The bigger problems began with taking it to the next level to make it a business and start producing commercially as it required a lot of financial investment and flexibility.
PJ: You were trying to fill a void in the market place by creating Little Heroes, are there other educational products in the market that address the issues for kids with Autism? What do you think more in the industry or community could do for Autistic kids?
Daria: There are definitely many more products now in the market that helps in educating children with autism and other special needs, and what is most exciting for me most of them are creations of parents who try to make a difference, that's always priceless, when you see the "why" behind the business idea. I am not concerned about the product's availability and development anymore as it really is becoming much better, what concerns me the most is social awareness and education of the majority on what these "different abilities" are and how to include them in our society, help them feel accepted and an equal part of the groups. I am doing my best in making my own experience available and hopefully interesting for others to read and watch. I started a separate Instagram account to talk about the ups and downs I have and what I've learned along the way and still learning. I want all the parents of newly diagnosed children to know that they have the support and someone to listen to because dealing with professional help can be overwhelming as well, I've been there and the thing I really needed was someone to just share and make me feel that I've got this and everything will be alright.
PJ: Who are your mentors and what inspires you to continue to spread Little Heroes around the world to families and schools that work with Autisic kids?
Daria: I've been lucky to come across some amazing specialist who was there to guide me and support me through the process of learning about my son's condition and the ways to help him. They've been literally coaching me to be his home therapist, his voice and advocate.
PJ: Would you consider yourself an advocate for those with Autism? How can others learn and become more aware about this condition and how to interact with individuals, kids and adults alike who have it. What are the misconceptions and urban myths that you wish to correct?
Daria: Yes, by all means, and this has become one of my life purposes, to advocate for people with different disorders and disabilities. This is exactly the reason I created an autism awareness account because there are so many misconceptions out there and beliefs about what autism is or how it even "looks". If I have to point out just a few, I would say let's just accept the fact that there is no "autistic look", and the official name for this is Autism Spectrum Disorder, which means there is a wide range of how it can be expressed by a person and to what degree they are affected. The other common misunderstanding is that if a person with autism doesn't talk, or has poorly developed speech, they don't understand what's been said to them, around them, or about them. They actually do, and I'd really want people to be careful with how they talk and what they say, the easiest advice would be: when you talk from a place of compassion, care and kindness you will be just fine.
PJ: How has covid affected Little Heroes?
Daria: I believe we all got badly hit and especially the small businesses like ours who are start-ups on top of that. we got our products stuck in the factory in China, which affected our plan and ability to slowly introduce a bigger variety of packages so that parents can choose and prioritise what they are currently overcoming with their children and which skills they are developing. So, basically speaking we got stuck. Also, the sales have been majorly dropped, but we are hopeful it will all start changing soon.
PJ: What do you hope to achieve in this new decade? Will we be seeing Little Heroes expand it's product line?
Daria: Of course, we are working hard to be able to provide the whole range of products to parents and educators, so there is a lot of effort put in to start moving forward even if it's baby steps. Right now we are also working on diversifying our business beyond just products, going into offering service potentially, cannot go into details about this one right now as we are in the process of creating it. And I've had one more very valuable to special needs community idea that I've tried to put together and figure out for a long time and now it looks like it's going to see the light in the next few months.
PJ: Thank you Daria for sharing your story with us! You are such an inspiring heroine for all the Little Heroes out there! We can’t wait to see what else Little Heroes will create in this coming decade and hope that more individuals and communities can be aware of what Autism Spectrum Disorder is and how products like Little Heroes can help! To learn more about Little Heroes or to purchase these cards for educators, parents or loved ones you know who may find these useful head on to the website https://www.littleheroes.hk/ as well as follow their IG account, FB and Daria’s Autism Advocate IG .
The original source of the interview by Jenn: https://www.paperclipjenn.com/bloom/little-heroes