Nicole Stokes

The Puzzling Disorder Project, a member of the 2021-22 Social Innovation Lab cohort, was founded by Nicole Stokes.

SIL: Tell us about your company. What are you working on?

Nicole Stokes: The Puzzling Disorder Project is an outgrowth of HGE Designs Co. Life and blessings have caused us to pivot directions and we are focusing on functional fashion and sensory kits to help autistic children deal with the symptoms of sensory processing issues.

Why did you decide to start this? Where did the idea come from?

I never planned on becoming a business owner. HGE Designs Co. was created to answer a need for financial support to cover respite care, swim lessons and therapy after my son’s autism diagnosis.

The idea for the Puzzling Disorder Project came about during the onset of the pandemic when my son was separated from his school, therapists and any sensory integration therapy. I realized the materials, fabrics and even stitches of the apparel I was crocheting and knitting mimicked the panels of sensory rooms and tools he used at school. After building a sensory room for him, I decided to make smaller versions and customized, weighted scarves and blankets in the hopes of providing relief for other families.

What constitutes success for you?

Success for me is the ability to earn a living by minimizing the hardships parents and caregivers endure by sharing my story and resources and creating solutions.

How can people get involved in supporting you in your venture?

I welcome the lived experiences of autistic community members to assist with product testing. We are also seeking financial support in developing a prototype for sensory products and kits that can be used by families, emergency rooms and first responders to help autistic children that may become overwhelmed from sensory overload. We also are eager to collaborate with local businesses to include products in our kits that will benefit our customers while also providing support for the maker community of sensory products.

What have been some of the biggest challenges in scaling your venture during the pandemic?

Some of the biggest challenges have been extreme isolation due to the pandemic and the inability to have interactions where students can touch and experience products. The loss of revenue from pop-up shops and the usual vending opportunities also has been challenging.

What advice do you have for would-be social entrepreneurs thinking about starting a venture?

Never stop learning. Technology, methods and research changes things so fast. Even the things you feel you have mastered are constantly being improved.

Why did you apply to SIL? What attracted you to SIL?

I applied to SIL because it gave me hope that I could make a difference as a regular person. There was a need for the work I was doing and SIL was going to give me access to a network of professionals and resources to make it all happen.

Read more about The Puzzling Disorder Project here. To learn more about the Social Innovation Lab and the 2021–22 cohort, click here. Join them at the SIL Innovators’ Showcase event, 4–6 p.m. on April 26.