When Fred and Alicia Harmon originally opened Lil’ Treasures Thrift Shoppe it was to increase the family’s income. However it has blossomed into so much more than that, donating a portion of their income to autism research and providing a place for families with autism to stop in and find support. The store is also a welcoming environment for the Harmon’s twin autistic boys to learn social skills.
William and Luke, who were diagnosed as autistic at age 5, are average 7-year-olds who jump, play and run, but lack a natural fear of danger or sense of safety.
An alarm had to be put on their bedroom window and various locks on their bedroom door because William and Luke have tried to leave the house at 2 a.m. to play. Luke once temporarily shut down the Oklahoma City zoo when he scaled the wall of a closed exhibit to play in the dirt.
William and Luke have been attending an autism program at Texas Panhandle Centers for over a year. The program uses Applied Behavioral Analysis applying an intervention to specific behaviors. Each child is taught one-on-one.
“In our program, we try to understand what makes them successful, find a student’s strengths and weaknesses and create an individualized plan. That’s the key factor,” Amy Garcia, executive director of the program, said. “The Harmons have two totally different programs because one (Luke) is higher-functioning than the other.”
Fred Harmon said behavioral therapy is based on repetition, from using words, not pointing; from talking, not yelling. Luke is reading on a first-grade level.
“Then beyond that, they used the ABA process to teach social skills as well as education basics,” Alicia said. “It’s the only proven autism therapy that works.”
The Harmons hope that the Amarillo Texas thrift store might one day become a place for the twins and others with autism to find employment.
Ultimately they want to turn Lil’ Treasures into a 501(c)3 charity for low-cost items, to employ autistic adults for simple tasks, to become a central gathering place for questions and a support group for parents with autistic children. “Turn it into something that is bigger than just us,” Fred said.