Our guest this week is Jason Hsieh of University Park, WA. Jason and his wife Miho have been married for 11 years and are the proud parents of three children: Moani (3) who has speech delays, Luana (7) who was diagnosed with Leukemia, and Keanu (10), who has Autism and ADHD.
Jason is founder of LakiKid, a company whose motto is to ‘Empower Kids To Have A Life Full Of Possibilities’ and that sells sensory tools and toys that help kids with autism and other special needs at school and at home.
Jason is also a member of the first SFN Dads MasterMind Group, composed of eight SFN fathers who meet weekly to encourage and support one another.
It’s a fascinating story and we’ll hear it on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Show Links –
LakiKid Website – https://lakikid.com
KultureCity Website – https://www.kulturecity.org
Washington State Fathers Network – https://fathersnetwork.org
Jason Hsieh: I noticed my older daughter, the kid in the middle, she’s the one who’s taking almost like the leadership role out of the three kids, because she’s the most mature compared to my son. Even though she’s younger, sometimes she’ll be telling him what to do. So this is an interesting dynamic, seeing a younger sister telling an older brother what to do and what not to do, what to say and what not to say.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week, Jason Hsieh. Jason and his wife Miho, have three children, including Keanu, who has autism and ADHD. Jason and Keanu formed LakiKid, a website that sells sensory tools and toys that help kids with autism and other special needs at school and at home. It’s a fascinating story, and we’ll hear it on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Say hello to David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search Dad to Dad.
Tom Couch: And now let’s hear this intriguing conversation between Jason Hsieh and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I am thrilled to be talking today with Jason Hsieh of University Park, Washington, who’s the father of three and founder of lakikid.com, a startup dedicated to empowering kids to have a full life of possibilities. Jason, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Jason Hsieh: Yeah, thank you so much for inviting me. It’s my honor.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Miho have been married for 11 years and are the proud parents of three children: Moani, 3, who has speech delays, Luana, 7, who was diagnosed with leukemia, and Keanu, 10, who has autism and ADHD. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Jason Hsieh: Yeah. I grew up in Taiwan, and I moved to the States when I was 15. I actually went a boarding school in Canada for one year, then went to the US. So my background is pretty traditional Asian. Since then, I married my after I graduated, and we were able to have three wonderful children together.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for the quick fly by. I want to go back a little bit. When you were growing up in Taiwan, my recollection was you were the oldest of two, is that’s correct?
Jason Hsieh: Yeah.
David Hirsch: And do you have a younger brother or sister?
Jason Hsieh: I have a younger sister. Her name is Annie.
David Hirsch: Okay. And is Annie in the States or back in Taiwan?
Jason Hsieh: She also lives in Washington state, about an hour from my house.
David Hirsch: Do your parents still live in Taiwan, or where do they live?
Jason Hsieh: They kind of fly back and forth. They have a house in the States, but they have a house in Taiwan. They have been living in Taiwan since Covid because it’s just safer in Taiwan.
David Hirsch: Okay. Out of curiosity, what does your dad do for a living?
Jason Hsieh: He’s also an entrepreneur like myself. He has operated his own business since I was born, and he owns a telecommunication business. His company creates and designs and makes phone systems for companies like hotels. His company designs the software for the phone system, and they also manufacture their own phone systems.
David Hirsch: I’m sort of curious to know, how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Jason Hsieh: Oh, I would say in a way I really respect him, but also there’s a distance between me and him. I guess that’s kind of common, especially in the Asian culture. The father is always the most respected figure in the family. And I think one of the things that made me want to be entrepreneur myself is really coming from my dad. Because growing up I just saw him running the business for all his life, and the struggle and the things he went through.
But there’s also some distance between him and me. We didn’t open up, I guess, to really talk about our true feelings. Also, I was away from my family since I was 15. As I mentioned, was sent to a boarding school in Canada. Then my parents decided to send me to live with one of their friends in California for a couple years.
So I haven’t been really close to my dad, unfortunately. But since I have my own kids now, I feel like there are other things I can share with him a little bit more. But one thing I always regret is I feel like my dad put so much of his time and energy into his business that we didn’t have a lot of quality time together as a family, as much as I would really have liked.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for your authenticity and being so open and honest about that. Maybe there’s a lesson learned there about your relationship with your kids. Even though you’re an entrepreneur, maybe you’ll make a bigger effort to spend more time with your kids. In addition to that, are there any other important takeaways, something your dad always said or did, or something that you’ve tried to incorporate into your own parenting that you learned from your dad?
Jason Hsieh: My dad is highly logical. Every time he wants to say something, he’ll always come up with a story. Then he’ll go into a series behind it, and he’ll talk about why you should do it a certain way. So it’s just the way he. His parenting is kind of interesting. I guess I also tried to learn a little bit from him, but I tend to be a little bit more emotional sometimes than my dad. So I think that’s a major difference, just a different style of parenting, I guess.
David Hirsch: So I’m sort of curious to know what, if any, relationship you had with your grandfathers, first on your dad’s side and then on your mom’s side.
Jason Hsieh: On my dad’s side, I was pretty close to my grandfather before he passed away. I think he passed away when I was in third or fourth grade. So he passed away pretty young. But my grandfather would take me around to different places when I was a kid.
I remember one of the things I really liked when I was a kid were construction sites. I liked to see the excavating machines moving around. So he always took me on his motorcycle to different construction sites and showed me those construction machines. So I remember that pretty clearly. On my mom’s side, unfortunately, both of my grandparents passed away before I was born.
David Hirsch: Well, it’s nice that you got to meet at least one of your grandfathers. I think that there’s a legacy there. It’s not just pictures and stories, but maybe a firsthand understanding, even if he did pass away at a relatively early age.
So like you mentioned, you went to school here in the States, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and my recollection was you took a degree in economics and accounting. I’m wondering, where did your career take you after graduation?
Jason Hsieh: I started my first startup right after graduation. Fortunately, it was a flop. It was a website design company. I started it with my friend, but after a year, we had to close the business, due to some issues with my partners. That’s my first ever business lesson learned, and I got into this state of depression after that. I decided to move back to Taiwan, and I was working in Taiwan.
And then during that time, before I even started my business, I met my wife when I was in college. I lived in Taiwan for a few years, so I got married after that. My wife and I decided to move to Japan, working for different, companies. So since graduation, besides starting my own business, I went back to the corporate world again. I actually worked in my dad’s company for a few years in Taiwan before I moved to Japan with my wife,
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, speaking of your wife, I’m sort of curious to know, how did you and Miho meet?
Jason Hsieh: Yeah, that’s an interesting story. We met in Hawaii. I was vacationing with my family and she was visiting one of her friends that live in Hawaii back then. And I think I got lost, and I just asked her for directions at the bus stop and also got her phone number. And that’s kinda how we met.
David Hirsch: And the rest is history. Okay. Let’s switch gears and talk about special needs. And I’m sort of curious to know before Keanu’s diagnosis if you and Miho had any experience with special needs.
Jason Hsieh: No, actually this was really a very new idea or concept, and a whole different world to us when we learned about our son’s diagnosis of autism and ADHD. I think that’s also part of the culture in Asia. It’s just such a taboo topic. People don’t really talk about mental disabilities and mental issues even if they might have them. So we were not prepared, so to speak, when we first learned about the diagnosis. I was actually in denial myself for the first couple months and refused to believe there was something wrong with our son initially.
David Hirsch: So how old was Keanu when he was diagnosed with autism and ADHD?
Jason Hsieh: He was three.
David Hirsch: Okay. And you were in Japan at the time.
Jason Hsieh: Yes, that’s when we learned about it. But ] unfortunately we couldn’t find the resources and the therapy opportunities in Japan at the time. And just to give you a number, the Tokyo metropolitan area has a larger population than the city of New York. I think there’s a little more than 10 million people living in that city area around Tokyo.
However, we can only find two therapy centers to take our son to back then. So that is not a very good situation to be in, to live in such a big city where you can only go to two places. There were only two therapy centers we could find. That kind of gives you a sense of the severity of the situation. Given how many people live in that city, I’m pretty sure a lot of other kids also have similar issues like our son. But having only two places to go is not a good situation to be in.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well that’s the sad reality. I don’t know that much about what’s going on in Tokyo or Japan, but I know that in the US, with all the challenges and problems we have, we do have a very robust community for people with special needs, and all different types of special needs. We have lots of resources, lots of therapies, community by community. They’re more concentrated in urban and suburban areas, less so in rural areas.
But I’m sort of curious to know, early on, after you got past your own denial, what were some of the concerns or fears that you and Miho had as it relates to the diagnosis and moving forward?
Jason Hsieh: One of the big concerns was really his ability to live by himself eventually, and also career opportunities and all that. That’s kind of the major, I guess, concern. And also educationally, would he able to keep up with his peers? And that’s actually one focus for this year. We got him an English tutor, and he is also doing some additional sessions with one of the local institutions here in Washington that focuses on learning disabilities.
It’s not really a therapy. It’s called ARK Therapeutic. But in their sessions, they have an interesting tool for learning. They try to teach kids the concept of linking different components of a sentence using different shapes. So you help kids that are struggling with languages to able to write and read better by using a concept of connecting different shapes.
For example, a noun is a certain shape, a verb is a different shape, a conjunction is a certain shape. So that’s something we are also working to help him with his reading and writing skills. That’s something he’s a little bit behind on compared to peers.
And one thing we are also doing is giving him different potential career options. We have been having him take different coding lessons online to see whether or not he has any interest. And recently he’s into a stop motion animation. So we also try to give him different opportunities so he can use different tools and make his own stop motion animation.
And he actually did a pretty good job. He was able to make a 30 second animation a couple weeks ago just with his toys and stuff. So it’s kind of a potential career opportunity that might be of interest. Something I notice, because we also interact with a lot of other families that have kids with special needs, is that once they find one thing they are interested in, these kids tend to hyper focus, which can lead to potential careers.
David Hirsch: So, yeah, it’s very interesting, to plant those seeds at such an early age. Remember, he is only ten years old, right? So he would potentially be in the workaday world eight to ten years down the road.
I’m sort of curious, just to go back a little bit, how many years did you stay in Japan before you realized that this wasn’t what you wanted to do? Because that was a big decision for you and Miho to make, to move from Japan to the US. I’m sort of curious to know, how did that decision transpire?
Jason Hsieh: We learned about the diagnosis in 2013, and we decided to move in 2015—so about two years. And a major factor was that we understood the importance of early child development. So the earlier we could make the move, the more impact we could potentially have on our son. Fortunately enough, we had the resources to do that move across the Pacific Ocean. I think that was the right decision for our family and our son.
One more thing I want to share. When he first got his diagnosis, he was non-verbal from age three to five. But now he is on the other side of the spectrum. He’s hyper talkative—he just talks too much. And he won’t stop asking people questions. So he went from nonverbal to hyper talkative and he won’t stop talking. So it’s a very interesting journey, as a parent, to see how much he’s grown from going through that.
David Hirsch: Well, he might be making up for some lost ground, for not talking for a couple years. But it’s fascinating.
So I’m sort of curious to know a little bit more about the decision to move to the US, because my recollection was you speak pretty good English, but Miho doesn’t. And I’m wondering, how has that challenge worked out? And are there any other challenges you’ve experienced as a family as well?
Jason Hsieh: Yeah, that’s actually one of the biggest struggles, especially for my wife. We have been living, like I mentioned, in three different countries so far—Taiwan, Japan and now the US. She had a similar issue while we were living in Taiwan as well, because of the language barrier, she also doesn’t speak Chinese. She’s still taking ESL classes, English as a second language. But that’s definitely one of the things I’m trying to help her with.
And it’s difficult, especially when you have kids with special needs. We need to take the kids to so many different therapy sessions and there are language barriers. It’s hard to understand the therapist who is working with a kid, and sometimes I really need to be the interpreter. The language barrier also shows up when we’re making medical appointments and things like that.
And like you mentioned, our older daughter was diagnosed with leukemia a couple years ago. So having the leukemia diagnosis and the whole cancer treatment appointments came on top of all the medical appointments for our son.
Our daughter has finished chemotherapy and is in remission right now, but during the two and half years she was doing chemo were probably the toughest years we’ve faced as a family. Plus I was trying to get my startup off the ground. It was about six months after I started my company that we got our daughter’s diagnosis.
So everything kind of happened in sequence and near the same time. It was one of the darkest and the most stressful period that we’ve ever had.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thank you for sharing. I’m relieved to hear that her cancer, her leukemia is in remission, and I’m hoping it’s just one of those things where it is what it is, right? You know, you can’t change the diagnosis—you just have to go through the treatment and hope for the best. And I’m hoping that it’s just a blip on the radar screen when you look back on it years and years down the road, and that it won’t impact her development, either physically or intellectually, going forward.
So I’m sort of curious to know what impact Keanu’s situation has had on his siblings, his two younger sisters.
Jason Hsieh: Oh, that’s a very interesting dynamic. To be honest, I haven’t been very closely observing their dynamic as much, but I noticed my older daughter Luana, the one in the middle, is the one who’s taking almost like the leadership role, because she’s the most mature compared to my son, even though she’s younger.
So sometime she’ll be telling him what to do. It’s kind of interesting to see the younger sister telling the older brother what to do and what not to do, and what to say and what not to say. Luana is also really good at taking care of her younger sister. So she really steps up, especially after she finished her chemotherapy and her cancer treatment.
I do believe everything happened to us for a reason. I mean, things don’t happen to us—they’re happening for us. So with our son’s diagnosis, with our situation with our daughter, it has made our family stronger in the end. Luana will be able to look back to this experience in her life and know she went through something no one else went through, and that will kind of prove to her how strong she is. I think it will help her build her character as a human.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. Your kids are relatively young, so it’s probably hard to know what the real impact will be until years down the road. But it’s something that it sounds like you’re cognizant of, and obviously you need to sort of do a balancing act, right? You don’t want all the attention and all the resources to go to your son at the disadvantage of your daughters. So time will tell.
I’m sort of curious to know what supporting organizations you and your family have relied on for Keanu.
Jason Hsieh: Of course we take him to work on different therapies, including APA therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and few others. But I guess the organization that has had the biggest impact is a local organization called Open Door. They are a nonprofit organization that provides information and education for multicultural families.
So when we first moved to Washington, we attended their training sessions once a week, where they actually arranged an interpreter for my wife and they also arranged childcare on site so, we could bring the kids. My wife and I attended the training webinar or seminar completely free of charge.
I think that nonprofit has really helped our family to get a better understanding of things like IEP, individualized education program. None of the Asian countries have something like this. We needed help navigating the special education system and how to negotiate with the schools for things that would benefit our son, as well as working our way through the medical system.
The second organization that has been really helpful is a nonprofit called Kulture City. This is an organization whose mission is to help the world become more sensory inclusive. They have a huge program called the Sensory Inclusive Initiative that has a global reach, in that it serves the US, Canada, the UK and Australia
They work in various places like the MBA stadiums, football and baseball arenas, zoos and aquariums, training the staff to be aware of sensory issues that kids like my son face. They also provide “sensory bags” that contain fidget toys, noise canceling headphones and weighted blankets—which my startup company actually designed for Kulture City.
So we have been partnering with Kulture City for a couple years ago. Last but not least, as part of the program, they also build a sensory room, which is a quiet place where a family can go.
David Hirsch: We’ll be sure to include information on Kulture City in the show notes as well. I’m wondering if there are any other organizations that your family has relied on, either for Keanu’s benefit or just for your own benefit.
Jason Hsieh: I will say there was also the Father Network in Washington. I did attend a few of their meetings in the past to just get to know other fathers who are facing similar challenges.
David Hirsch: Well, the Washington State Fathers Network run by Lewis Mendoza is really a very influential group there in the northwest, and they do some amazing work.
So let’s switch gears and talk about LakiKid. How long has that organization been around? What’s its mission, and what’s your vision for that organization?
Jason Hsieh: This is a startup company. We started back in 2017. Our main mission is to empower, support and educate kids with learning differences, and to create an environment where everyone can really live a life of possibility. And we do that by creating different physical products, like sensory tools or sensory toys to help kids. Also some of our products are designed to help the classroom environment to make it more sensory inclusive by introducing different flexible settings and options for the classroom.
So instead of sitting on the chair, the student could be sitting on one of the yoga balls we designed, or one of our wiggle seats, or they can use one of our fidget tools in the classroom. A lot of classrooms will have like comedown corners, so we also provide tools and different products for that.
And on top of that, we also provide a lot of education through our media blog and through our podcasts, trying to educate families who are going through the similar journey my own family is going through. And we partner with different organizations as well. Like I mentioned, we have partnered with Kulture City for many years to really support their cause.
My long-term vision for the company is I want to grow the company big enough so I can go back to the countries in Asia and help the families there, where no company like mine even exists. So that’s my long-term vision.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing, and I think it’s an admirable goal, not just to grow the business and make it successful here in the States, but to the extent that you can scale it to be able to take it to Asian countries like you were suggesting. I’m sort of curious to know where did the name LakiKid come from? What is Laki?
Jason Hsieh: Laki is just a Hawaiian spelling of the word of lucky. It’s just a play on words.
David Hirsch: Got it. So if it was in English, it would be LuckyKid. Well, thanks for the explanation. That’s crystal clear to me now.
I’m sort of thinking about advice now, and I’m wondering what advice you would suggest to fathers like yourself who have young children with different challenges—in your case, autism, ADHD, and your daughter’s bout with leukemia. And then you’d indicated that your youngest has had speech delays as well. What type of advice can you offer?
Jason Hsieh: I would say just be open minded. I think one of the common issues that men face is we tend to try to fix things. We really want to fix it. But when you come to learning differences or mental disabilities, it is not really something you can fix. But you can try to accommodate as much as you can.
So that is kind of changing your mindset from, “Because I’m the man of the family, I need to fix everything,” to perhaps being just the person in the middle who tries to provide the information your family needs. Also try to find and attend different support groups, where you can talk to other fathers. I really appreciate everything you do, David, with your organization, and the support you are providing to other fathers through your mentorship program.
So find those kind of resources, be open minded, and talk to other fathers who have already been there and done that. I think that is going to be a huge help. Sometimes we don’t realize, with all the problems we face, that we will get pushed to the corner, not realizing there are a lot of other families who have already have been through similar situations and who can really give us a different perspective on life.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, those are two good pieces of advice—not always being a fixer but trying to be accommodative, and then trying to align yourself with other people who have had more experience, so you’re not trying to figure out everything on your own.
It’s just a matter of trying to use your time more efficiently. It takes a lot more time to figure out things on your own than it would be to put yourself in a community of people who, like you said, have already been there and done that. So I’m sort of curious to know, why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Jason Hsieh: Yeah, because I am really passionate about sharing my experience, and hopefully I can help out another family like our own. It goes back to the mission for my own company, and I feel like it’s also part of my calling to really help out.
One more thing I forgot to mention is I actually didn’t realize I also have ADHD myself until I was doing all the research for my son. It’s like, oh, I’m checking all the boxes myself. This is kind of weird. And then I started to think back through my childhood, and I kind of understand why I went through all the struggles I did as a kid in school. I thought maybe I’m just not a good student, I’m not smart enough.
But having the understanding that I actually do have ADHD and just the way I am really helped give me a different perspective about myself. But it’s something I might not have realized if I didn’t have my son.
David Hirsch: Well, it’s a very important enlightenment. It’s not going to change anything, but just having a broader awareness or understanding of your own circumstances I think not only informs you personally, but maybe it’s something that will help you relate to some of the challenges Keanu is going through as well. Because you’ve already been there and done that yourself.
So is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Jason Hsieh: That’s another interesting observation. I’ve seen in my interactions with my son that there are similarities between him and me, which tends to create more of a tension because we’re so much alike. So that can be something I struggle with a little. When I see so much of myself in him, it can make me frustrated. It’s something I’m still learning to cope with. I’m pretty sure other fathers out there might resonate with that.
David Hirsch: Well, you didn’t use the word patience, but what comes to mind is that you have to develop a certain level of patience, right? You know, that’s not something you’re born with. I think that’s something that we each need to work at. And it’s not like you learn how to be patient and then you’re always patient. It’s just something that can be an ongoing process or challenge.
Jason Hsieh: Yeah. One of the tools I’ve been using for a long time is really daily meditation. And I also do meditation with my kids too each evening, just for five minutes, because a longer session would be harder for the them. But for my own meditation, I would do a longer session. But that hasn’t really helped me, especially with my ADHD or with my son’s situation. But trying to learn that practice is critical, especially for people who can have too many things on their mind.
David Hirsch: Thank you for sharing. So if somebody wants to learn more about LakiKid or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Jason Hsieh: Yeah, the best way to reach us is just is to visit our website at LakiKid.com. There you’ll find all the resources that we have and also the products we provide.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Well, we will be sure to include that in the show notes, so it’ll make it as easy as possible for somebody to follow up with you. Jason, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Jason is just one of the dads who’s part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tax deductible contribution? I would really appreciate your support.
Jason, thanks again.
Jason Hsieh:: Thank you so much.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children match up with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support other dads.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad. Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story, or know of a compelling story, please send an email to David@21stcenturydads.org.
Tom Couch: To find out more about the Special Fathers Network, go to 21stcenturydads.org. This program was produced by me, Tom Couch. Thanks for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.