EDISON, N.J. — When Jenny Lin was laid off from her job in 2014, she saw it as an opportunity. Instead of panicking, she went to Taiwan for three weeks with her son Eddie so he could receive professional balloon-making lessons that weren’t available in the United States.
Up until that point, 17-year-old Eddie, who has autism, was self-taught in his balloon art. Jenny Lin told NBC News that Eddie was 10 years old when he came across videos of people making balloons, and asked his parents to buy balloons so he could try his hand.
“For someone on the autism spectrum, copying is one of their characteristic traits,” Lin said. “He obviously had gone through the channels and found balloons interesting.”
Eddie began uploading his own balloon-making videos on YouTube, often gifting his creations to his doctors, therapist, and teachers.
"This is his communication bridge with others."
“Everyone was telling me he has the skills and we really should think about going into business,” Lin said. She didn’t take the suggestion seriously, at first, because both she and her husband James were busy with work, and she wasn't sure if Eddie was up for the demands of a business.
“Autistic children are fixated with colors. Initially when he watched YouTube, if this turkey requires five colors he [wouldn’t] deviate with any other color," she said. "When you have a customer asking for things, a lot of things have to be tailored. So we just thought of [balloon-making] as a hobby.”
But when Eddie had exhausted the YouTube tutorials, his parents searched for a way to continue developing his skills. The New Jersey-based family was unable to find a teacher for Eddie in their area, but had discovered on one of their family visits back to Taiwan potential instructors at a balloon sculpture shop called 5279 I Love Balloons.
When Jenny found herself without a job, she decided to take advantage of the unexpected free time and took Eddie to Taiwan to learn. “When I saw him work side by side with professionals, I saw that he does have talent,” she said. “They told me he is a talented balloon artist.”
As for her concern that Eddie lacked the flexibility to accommodate customers’ orders, she was pleased to be proven wrong. “He started to deviate and he is okay with the changes now,” she said. “The local church heard about his talent and he was invited to do a summer event with them, and I saw he was able to adapt to change.”
Upon Eddie and Jenny’s return from Taiwan, the Lins set up a Facebook page for Eddie’s balloon company, which they decided to call Ausome Balloon Creator — the name’s unique spelling, a reference to Eddie's autism.
“I think now with the awareness a lot of people associate the 'au' with autism,” she said. “The name is not only promoting the awareness, but I want people to know they’re hiring someone with a special need.”
Ausome Balloon Creator’s elaborate creations, ranging from animals and flowers to life-sized balloon sculptures of customers, have impressed customers. Although the Lins didn’t actively advertise their business, their popularity spread through word-of-mouth, and they have been hired for children's birthday parties and to make holiday displays for local Jersey businesses.
More than anything, Ausome Balloon Creator is a family effort. Eddie’s brother Jim often makes balloon sculptures alongside him, and sister Cindy manages social media. James, Eddie's father, serves as chauffeur and Jenny makes sure everything runs smoothly.
“Both my husband and I work full-time and [Eddie] goes to school still, so it’s something he does on the weekends,” Jenny Lin said. “For an autistic child, it’s a great opportunity to socialize with different people.”
She adds that she's noticed a positive change in Eddie since he started making balloons, and that he's gained confidence over the years.
“I think he understands this is something he is good at," Lin said. "That’s his way of expressing himself and how he connects. This is his communication bridge with others.”