In this blog piece, Thomas J. McGranahan Jr discusses his personal struggles with epilepsy, and the importance of staying strong in the face of adversity.
By Spencer Kelly
When I was a child, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. I struggled with many things, from being unable to speak and pacing back and forth, to having frequent, random and instantaneous motor tics in both my arms and hands. I required many different types of therapy to be where I am today. However, the human mind is like a hungry bear, for it devours whatever media it is presented with.
For me, that media was a book, any book. The bigger the book was, the better. I began reading circa age two, without my parent’s help. By age three, when my obsessive topic (a symptom of Asperger’s, in which the person becomes obsessed with a certain topic) was whales, I could list the English and Latin name of every species of whale, sharks and dolphins. Not much later, I could also do the same from dinosaurs to modern reptiles, and every animal in between. At age six, I found myself a book on Ancient Egypt, and from there, my love of history was born.
I had always wanted to start a business, ever since I picked up the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, by Robert T. Kiyosaki, when I was ten. The idea of a business seemed perfect to me; an environment where I was just as in charge of my destiny, as I was when I taught myself to read.
This love of history also gave me a unique and critical outlook, where I placed measures and reason above fantastical dreams. Of course, every benefit I ever gained had an equal damage, and for me, that was having conversational abilities. I tended to subconsciously ignore people, as well as be unable to gauge a topic/theme of a conversational exchange. However, after lots of therapy, this is all in my past. Now, I have almost mastered the art of conversation, which is a useful skill when it comes to business. Okay, I still tend to be a little topic obsessed, but my thinking is much less circular, and I have better understanding when and when not to speak about my obsessive topics.
I had always wanted to start a business, ever since I picked up the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, by Robert T. Kiyosaki, when I was ten. The idea of a business seemed perfect to me; an environment where I was just as in charge of my destiny, as I was when I taught myself to read. I was young, however, and had neither the idea nor the jettison. That all changed in late June of 2016, when I was 14 years old — and it is a story for the ages.
My friend and I were riding our bikes in a local town. We stopped to eat at a popular fast food restaurant. Not five minutes later, we came out to discover that our bikes had been purloined! My father bought me a new bike, but it came with the condition that I was to pay my father back! A week later, we hosted a bonfire with our friends, and we all talked about what happened. The idea to sell soaps came up and I thought this was a great idea! I immediately began working on it! All summer long, I worked on creating my online store. I finally decided on my company name and logo, and officially created my LLC business, The Expedition Soap Company, in August, a week before I turned fifteen. Come September 1st, I launched my online store and began selling soaps at ExpeditionSoaps.com. I was officially in business!
The company has grown over this past year to be a great success, both company-wise and personally. Business wise, my company grew up over this past year. I began with 20 varieties of organic Shea Butter vegan handmade soap. By October, a month later, the selection grew to 40 & I had created my 2nd online store, specifically for fundraising, ExpeditionSoapsFundraising.com. By December’s end, we updated and personalized our soap labels, we had finished a few fundraisers, and had attended 13 vendor shows selling soaps on the weekends. Things were just beginning to take off!
We had many requests for lotions and body butters and by February 2017, we began to offer these vegan organic Shea Butter products. In February, I was featured in a local Art Studio as my own Trunk Show for a weekend. This got me press in the local newspaper and TV station. After this, we donated to my chosen charity, USAAA.org, the US Autism & Asperger Association in April for Autism awareness month. The director of this organization, Dr. Lawrence Kaplan, decided to share my story with his readers online. For this, I sent him some soaps to say thank you. Well, in May, Dr. Kaplan contacted me and told me that they all loved our soaps, loved shaving with our soaps, and really thought my business was neat! He then invited me to be a guest panelist at The World Conference on Autism in this past August.
What an amazing experience this was! Here I met many amazing people, including Dr. Lawrence Kaplan, Dr. Temple Grandin, and Dr. Hackie Reitman! I was immersed for the weekend in the world of Autism and it was awesome! I listened to various experts speak, I celebrated Temple Grandin’s 70th birthday at a private dinner event and I sat next to Temple Grandin during my panel. Also, I completely sold out of all my products that I brought to sell, in just 2 days! I met so many different people on the spectrum that were amazing, and I made so many connections. Best of all, I took away from this experience that I am proud of having Asperger syndrome. I have a voice for those who do not, and I have inspiration to share my thoughts and talents.
I want those that read this to know they too can follow their dreams and have their own business doing what they love. Sure, having a business takes lots of hard work and lots of time, but it really is rewarding to experience such a major accomplishment and to have the great feedback from so many customers that love my products. I feel proud to provide a healthy alternative in body care. Even though I have some challenges having Asperger syndrome, I can still operate my own business. My business has sharpened my conversational skills, it increased my confidence, and it showed me that I could truly become successful, despite my having Asperger’s syndrome. And so can you all too! If you have a burning passion, especially those of us who are topic obsessed, you can take that passion and create a business doing what you love! For me it was combining history and soap. What will it be for you?
I am Spencer Kelly and I have Asperger syndrome. I live in Lake Orion, MI. I am a sixteen-year-old, 11th grade student, that homeschools high school and dual-enrolls at Oakland University. My favorite school subjects are history, physics, politics, and business. In my free time, I talk with friends, bike ride and play strategic games. I launched my own handmade organic Shea Butter soap business, The Expedition Soap Company, on September 1st last year. My business has grown to be quite a success, and it culminated this past August when I was a panelist speaker at The World Conference for Autism.