Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.

After my son Wolf was born, I set out to discover all the cool children’s brands on Instagram and Pinterest, as well as trusted parenting sites with recommendations for modern toys, decor, and clothes that my son would love. So, I created a board for Wolf on Pinterest, and began to pin all my finds.

But when Wolf turned 3, my purpose for pinning completely changed. His preschool teachers suggested that Wolf had sensory sensitivities, and recommended that he use therapy toys to help him focus whenever he became overstimulated.

They handed me catalogs with information, which I carefully read through. Then I went to the sites they suggested to visit to learn more. I found that Wolf, according to the internet, had autism.

Except for one thing: Like many children with sensory sensitivities, developmental delays, or learning differences, Wolf didn’t have autism.

So why were the only resources I could find about autism?

As I kept researching, I discovered that many of the same toys and therapeutic tools these sites were suggesting were also available on Amazon. Some were even on my favorite shopping sites. That’s when I realized: No one was curating these items in a thoughtful, inclusive, and imaginative way. And that’s when I saw an opportunity to truly help parents who have kids with unique developmental needs such as anxiety, sensory sensitivities, ADHD, SPD, autism, speech and language delays, and other learning differences.

As the concept for WOLF + FRIENDS slowly came together, I approached my friend Gena Mann for advice. Gena and I grew up in the same Long Island town and worked together at CosmoGirl magazine in New York City until she left when her son received an autism diagnosis. (Her second son also has autism, although they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum.)

We had kept in touch throughout the years, especially since I’d often send friends Gena’s way when they needed advice. Gena was kind and helpful, filled with a wealth of knowledge about autism, various therapies, and therapists.

When Gena saw the prototype for WOLF + FRIENDS, she was determined to get involved. She knew how lonely and terrifying the experience of navigating school programs, therapies, and insurance could be. And even after those therapeutic programs are sorted, there wasn’t one place where she could go shopping and find play tips or design ideas that would be helpful for her boys at home.

Gena and I purposely designed the website to be inclusive. In one place, parents can visit and find cool clothing options for a child with poor fine motor skills or sensory sensitivities. There’s also advice from specialists in the field. For example, Courtney T. Gessin, MS, CCC-SLP, shares how dollhouses can teach children how to communicate their feelings. Jacqueline Forchetti, BCBA, wrote a stellar piece on how grocery shopping toys can prep kids for the real experience. Alescia Ford-Lanza, MS OTR/L, ATP, explains the importance of teaching toddlers organizational skills.

Tips for free play

  • Create a dedicated space for your child. Make sure there’s ample storage to put all toys and materials into containers.
  • Use clear containers with lids so you can stack them. This allows your kids to see the contents.
  • Label your containers with words or photos (photos are great for kids who can’t read yet). These small additions are what empowers children to learn the basic rules of organization and to clean up responsibility.
The importance of free play We believe in giving our children the opportunity and freedom to express themselves creatively. We do this by providing them with materials so they can participate in open-ended, messy, and sensory-rich play at home. Not only do our kids find this fun, but it’s this kind of playtime that’s the foundation for all learning and development.

Wolf has mostly grown out of his sensory sensitivities. But I’m still dedicated to raising awareness among parents.

When it comes to children (and their parents) having a difficult time, my hope is for others to be more compassionate. Some children won’t fully comprehend what developmental or behavioral differences are until they’re older. But they can learn to be thoughtful and kind — and that understanding has to come by example from us, the caregivers around them.

WOLF + FRIENDS is a modern shopping and lifestyle platform founded byCarissa Tozzi and Gena Mann. Their mission is to create an informative, imaginative, and inclusive shopping experience that will give parents the unique opportunity to design a lifestyle that will match where their child is in their development. For daily play tips, design ideas, and style advice, follow WOLF + FRIENDS on Instagram.