ShoeboxTasks® were designed by Ron Larsen during his work as a therapist with the TEACCH program, a statewide agency serving the autistic population of North Carolina. Together with his wife Linda, they operate a small cottage industry, Centering on Children, Inc., that designs, manufactures and packages ShoeboxTasks in Asheville, North Carolina. Centering on Children has experienced steady growth and continued progress since its inception in the mid '90s.
It all began in 1996, when Ron was working as the newest (and chronologically, the oldest) therapist at the TEACCH Center in Asheville, North Carolina. His fellow therapists, Anne McGuire, Catherine Faherty, and Sloane Burgess, offered encouragement and support during the early phases of developing the Tasks. Roger Cox, director of the center at the time, suggested that more people should be made aware of the Tasks and that maybe Ron should consider making and marketing them. Not wanting to misuse his position as a TEACCH therapist, he kept Gary Mesibov, the former Director of Division TEACCH in Chapel Hill, aware of developments as they progressed. Gary was supportive of the idea then, and continues to be to this day, sharing information about the activities during his lectures throughout the States and abroad.
The molds for the Shoebox base and lid are also made locally in Asheville - by a family-owned business not far from the ShoeboxTasks shop. This provides greater control over the product as a whole, as well as supporting the local economy.
Centering on Children also serves as a model workshop for those interested in working with adults on the autism spectrum in a vocational setting. Individuals with autism work on packaging and assembling the Tasks. They all make an hourly wage and are valued for the steadiness, accuracy and spirit which they bring each day to work.
ShoeboxTasks® would not have happened at all had it not been for my wife and biggest supporter, Linda. Neither she nor I could have imagined early on where these Tasks were going to take us, and yet I think we both feel that, as the Tasks have grown, so have we. Thank you Linda!
Special thanks goes to our son Adam, who filmed and edited several TEACCH training films and produced the ShoeboxTasks promotional CD that is used in TEACCH trainings. Thanks also goes to our son Nick, who programmed and operated the ShopBot machinery, helped run the shop and shared his creative talents in the design of several ShoeboxTasks.
We are grateful to Susan Rhew of Susan Rhew Design, Inc., who conveys the spirit of ShoeboxTasks through our brochures and instructional literature. Our thanks also to Vanessa Bell of BELL DESIGN for navigating all this information and creating a beautiful website and online shop.
~ Ron Larsen, Founder of ShoeboxTasks®
Ron Larsen Bio
Ron Larsen worked as a Psycho Educational Therapist with the North Carolina University's TEACCH Program from 1991 until 2000 in Asheville, NC. During that time, his work involved direct intervention with autistic children and adults, parent/teacher consultations, child/adolescent/adult evaluations, and professional presentations and trainings. During the mid-nineties, while working one-on-one sessions with young autistic children, Ron developed the design for ShoeboxTasks®, activities that engaged their interest and promoted independence and success. Encouraged by colleagues within the TEACCH program, Ron and his wife Linda spent the next few years researching materials and resources before putting together the first 16 ShoeboxTasks activities, later to become the "Basic Curriculum."
The business, named Centering on Children, Inc., began in their converted garage where a young man on the autism spectrum was hired with his coach to assemble and package the activities. As the ShoeboxTasks business grew, Ron left TEACCH after spending the last two years as head teacher in a model-structured preschool class. Outgrowing the garage, the business relocated to downtown Asheville and a few years later, to its current location in a business park alongside the French Broad River.
There are currently 37 ShoeboxTasks available, and they are sold worldwide to families, therapists and schools. The ShoeboxTasks Vocational Workshop employs autistic adults who do light manufacturing and packaging, where they are valued employees and considered critical to the success of the business. In addition to actual tasks, there is also the ShoeboxTasks Handbook: Activities Designed with Success in Mind (available in English, Spanish, French and Italian versions), the ShoeboxTasks Educational CD, the TEACCH DVD, a set of FolderTasks, as well as Mystery Bag and Sound Cylinders activities (just introduced in 2018), available for purchase.
Ron and Linda, along with their son Adam Larsen, also produced the documentary Neurotypical that describes autism from the perspective of individuals on the spectrum. The Point of View series on PBS aired Neurotypical during the summer of 2013 to widespread critical acclaim from film critics, those on the spectrum and neurotypicals alike.