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Years After Meeting On The Playground, Moms Start Company To Employ Adults With Autism

A person washing their hands with heart shaped soap. (Getty Images)
A person washing their hands with heart shaped soap. (Getty Images)

When Pat Miller and Pam Kattouf first met on a playground years ago, little did they know they’d soon build a company for their children.

Their friendship deepened after both of their sons, Justin Kattouf and John Miller, were diagnosed as having severe autism.

The moms couldn’t find an appropriate school, so they helped found one called the Garden Academy in West Orange, New Jersey.

Then, as their boys got older, Pat Miller and Pam Kattouf realized their sons would have trouble finding meaningful employment. That’s when the idea for Beloved Bath was born.

The company sells boutique bath products and provides employment for up to 12 people living with autism. Beloved Bath just moved into a new manufacturing space that can hold more employees.

Pat Miller says they found that making bath products would be an ideal vocation for people with autism because lotions, bath salts, candles and soaps require following a step-by-step process.

“We were able to break down the manufacturing of these products into simple steps that any individuals with autism, no matter where they fell on the spectrum, could learn and feel good about being able to complete,” Pat Miller says.

Watch on YouTube.

Beloved Bath is featured in a TV advertisement for Northwestern Mutual. In the ad, the moms explain how the company began with “a little lavender and a little salt and the desire to keep our kids calm.” Pam Kattouf says it’s true — she used to add lavender essential oil, known to promote calmness, to her children’s baths to soothe them.

The Kattouf family started to make their own lavender bath salts and packaged it up as gifts for loved ones. Over time, people started asking for their homemade bath salts, and from there, Pam Kattouf says the company “organically evolved.”

Without Beloved Bath, Pat Miller says it would have been “extremely difficult” to find Justin Kattouf and John Miller employment. There’s an acute lack of opportunities for folks like their sons: Research shows 80% to 90% of individuals with autism over the age of 21 are either unemployed or underemployed, she says.

Northwestern Mutual also played a role in helping Beloved Bath become a for-profit company, not a charity. Since many of the opportunities available for people with disabilities are volunteer only, the moms thought it was crucial to pay their employees and provide workers with a sense of achievement and accomplishment.

“We wanted to show that it could be done — and done well — and still be a company that makes a profit and pays all of the employees,” Pam Kattouf says.

Beloved Bath’s workplace is specifically geared for people with autism. There’s a waitlist for employees who want to work for the company, Pat Miller says. Their new, bigger space will allow them to push past their previous employment limits.

Still, the company aspires to grow even more to offer more opportunities to those in need of a job, Pat Miller says. Preferably, Beloved Bath would also support other businesses and open satellite locations across the U.S.

Both moms hope that one day, those dreams will become reality.

Mark Navin produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Jill RyanSerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.