Author: Janie Townsend, Assistant Manager at Mindful Toys/Therapy in a Bin

With Maureen on vacation somewhere tropical and sunny, it’s up to me to fill the void in our social media calendar. A few disclaimers before I write another word: (1) I am not a parent of autistic children, like Maureen is; (2) I am not a mother at all, like Maureen is; and (3) I am not in any way an expert in the world of childhood development, which Maureen kind of is because of her experience plugging her kiddos into early intervention therapies and services.

All that is to say I am no authority on neurodevelopmental disorders or the lives of people affected by them firsthand. On occasion, when customers come visit the store and hear my spiel about the importance of allowing children to fidget or have weighted stuffed animals, I get asked if I have a background in childhood development. I laughingly reply every time that I was a business major in school and merely wandered into Mindful Toys/Therapy in a Bin on a whim when I applied for the job, and have no academic or professional experience whatsoever in therapeutic toy distribution. I don’t actually know much about selling toys in general, educational or otherwise.

In fact, I walked into the store that fateful September day simply because the idea that therapeutic toys were being offered to children in the first place made me feel hopeful. I didn’t know yet what kinds of toys were inside, and I had no idea every product had been selected for its helpfulness to children on the spectrum as they maneuvered through occupational therapy, behavioral therapy, speech therapy, and the list goes on and on.

As a recent college grad who saw numerous friends seeking counseling services and support for mental and emotional turbulence, I’ve gotten used to hearing the word “therapy.” I don’t flinch or feel nervous anymore if someone mentions it, not like I did when I was a high schooler and my framework for understanding the purpose and format of therapy was supplied exclusively by other people who thought therapy was a bad thing, along with movies and television.

Watching people get help and end up the better for it melted and reshaped my misunderstanding of therapy. And while your standard “I can’t live life this way anymore, let’s work through my messy feelings and thoughts and habits” therapy is not the same as occupational therapy for a three-year-old with ASD, the point is I was thrilled by the sight of a toy store embracing the chance to nourish not only children, but a community’s understanding of what it means to encourage and love children well.

When I stumbled upon Mindful Toys/Therapy in a Bin, my transformed appreciation for therapy and people’s rhetoric surrounding it inspired me to pop my head in the door. And now I know more than I ever realized I could know about the amazing things people are capable of when given a chance to be strong and brave. To me, that’s really what our store is about. Kids affected by all kinds of things – anxiety, sensory processing disorder, learning delays, you name it – come in all the time, and I’m dumbfounded at how hard they work everyday just to make it through a single class or maintain one friendship. No one who walks inside (and is probably barked at by our soon-to-be therapy pup) has to worry we’ll wrinkle our noses or look at them funny when they tell us a therapist recommended our products. That’s what makes us special. That’s a better selling proposition than any marketer could invent for us.

This is just my way of gushing about a good place, I suppose. If you’re in Nashville, definitely come visit. We won’t judge if you or your child are in any kind of therapy, and we have fun toys and fidgets, and our dog will very probably bark at you (it’s an affectionate greeting, I promise). Pop your head in the door like I did and maybe you’ll feel a little hopeful, too.

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