It really began as a quest for a solution for Maria Dellapina, founder of Superior Precision Eyewear for Children who are Special, otherwise known as Specs4Us. Her youngest daughter was diagnosed with Down Syndrome at birth and like almost all other children with Down Syndrome, needed glasses by the age of two. But for years after that, Dellapina was unable to find a proper eyeglass frame to fit Erin’s face – one that would not keep slipping off and cause the little girl frustration that she would hurl them across the room, damaging them in the process.
“Children with Down Syndrome have lower bridge placement, they can have higher or lower temples and ear sets, so typical glass frames do not fit them and the kids just don’t want to wear them,” Dellapina says.
Dellapina had worked in the eyewear industry for many years but never on the design side. Unable to find anything that would fit her daughter, and not wanting to keep on having Erin’s glasses fixed or replaced, and realizing that other parents who have kids with Down Syndrome were facing similar issues, she set about designing a prototype of her own.
Her goal, she says, was to not just create a frame that would fit a child with Down Syndrome, but would also look “like an accessory and not like a necessity.”
Glasses Courtesy of Specs4Us
After tinkering around with glasses in her spare time, Dellapina, a single, working mother of four, had designed a prototype. A friend gave her the money to hire a manufacturer in South Korea, who after a couple of attempts, understood exactly what Dellapina had in mind and sent her around eight samples.
She reached out to several people she knew, offering them cash to put lenses into her frames and try the glasses on their children (including two infants). The feedback was more than positive.
“I’m proud to say that those people are still wearing the same frames today,” she says.
From there, Dellapina ordered three models in two sizes, both of which arrived from the manufacturer on her daughter’s ninth birthday.
Erin’s World, as she christened the line, sold out at a Down Syndrome conference Dellapina attended, and “we returned from there with seven pages, filled out back to front, of names of individuals who wanted frames for their kids, including older children and teens.”
But even as her name and her glasses became more and more well known among the Down Syndrome community, opticians were reluctant to take them on. It took a long time to convince glasses shops to carry her frames, and to make opticians realize the value of a line of eyewear specifically designed to fit the face of a child or teenager with Down Syndrome.
Today, Specs4Us sells frames wholesale to opticians all over the world. The company exports to 29 countries around the globe and supplies ophthalmologists who operate on babies with cataracts. Dellapina also donates her frames to Special Olympics events.
Although Specs4Us primarily makes frames for individuals with Down Syndrome, the company has recently started working with other communities that have distinct facial features as well, including the dwarf community. Dellapina also made glasses for Adalia Rose, who has a rare genetic condition called Progeria.
Her efforts have not gone unrecognized: in addition to receiving the Exceptional Meritorious Service Award from the Nation Down Syndrome Congress in 2013, Dellapina was awarded Toyota’s Mother of Invention Award in 2015 and is the recipient of the Best Company for Innovation by SCORE in Washington DC.
Currently, Specs4Us only makes metal frames but Dellapina is hoping that soon she will be able to manufacture plastic frames as well, with the same intent of designing glasses that are “fun, funky and serviceable all at once.”
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.