Like many young artists, 8-year-old Tyler Garrett-Neilson isn't sure why he started drawing a spiky-haired cartoonish character a few years ago.
His dad sometimes wore his hair in a mohawk, but Tyler went beyond human aesthetics and drew scores of spiky characters in all sorts of colors.
Now, Tyler, a Romeoville 2nd grader who lives with a mild form of autism, and his grandfather Paul Richards are looking to start a business making stuffed toy versions of Tyler's creation.
"He started doing these spiky-haired characters and put them all over the house," Richards said. "It occurred to me that it'd be cool to make these into a toy."
To get Spikeyhairs moving, Richards found a company to manufacture a plush stuffed animal-like prototype, the first in what the two hope will be many Spikeyhairs toys.
But it's not just about creating a commercial enterprise, Richards said recently. If the business gets off the ground, Richards said they would donate at least a quarter of their profits to autism-related research and other causes.
To help get the operation off the ground, Richards has started an account where people can donate to the cause at Indiegogo.com, a crowd-funding platform where people can raise money via online fundraising campaigns.
Richards said he hopes to raise the $8,900 by July 6. As of Monday, the campaign had raised about $1,200.
Part of the seed money Richards hopes to raise would go toward gifts for donors, he said.
Tyler is highly functional, Richards said, and very clever in certain fields. Tyler taught himself how to use Power Point on the computer by watching tutorials on YouTube, and knows a variety of other computer tricks that could stump many adults.
Aside from donating a quarter of proceeds from any future sales, Richards said he hopes to use the business to branch out into fundraising for a variety of autism-related causes.
The siblings of autistic children can sometimes feel ignored or left out due to the needs of their brothers and sisters, Richards said. He would like to explore the option of funding special camps for those kids.
When asked how he created the Spikeyhairs character, Tyler nonchalantly attributed it to "my smarty brain."
Richards said the business would also be a way for Tyler to give back.
He regularly asks to give away old toys he no longer plays with, Richards said.
Cases of different degrees of autism has increased in recent decades, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There was a nearly fourfold increase in parent-reported autism between the 1997-1999 and 2006-2008 surveillance periods, according to a March CDC report.
The CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network revealed a 78 percent increase in autism prevalence between 2002 and 2008, according to the report.
While it's not always easy, Richards said Tyler enjoys a variety of activities.
"We're glad Tyler is doing as well as he is," Richards said.
Tyler said he was impressed by the orange plush prototype that came to be because of his drawings.
"They copied it exactly," he said. "It's so special."
To learn more and find out how to donate, go to http://spikeyhairs.com.