MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Neither Pat Miller nor Pam Kattouf has a background in business, but that didn’t stop them from starting their own. Their Maplewood-based company, Beloved Bath, sells handmade soaps, candles and bath salts; the idea came as the duo was looking for employment opportunities for their sons, who both have autism.
“We make candles and bath products with the social message of finding adults with autism jobs,” Kattouf said in an interview with the News-Record on Monday, March 29. “We knew that, with our boys, there was very little opportunity for them.”
People with autism are entitled to remain in high school until the end of the school year in which they turn 21 years of age. When they turn 21, many aren’t able to find a job they like and are able to do. Kattouf’s son, Justin, and Miller’s son, John, are both going to age out of school soon, and they both work at Beloved Bath. Other employees of Beloved Bath are also autistic.
“The statistics are pretty terrible for people with autism,” Miller said in an interview with the News-Record on Monday, March 29, about postgraduation employment options. “Eighty to 90 percent of them are either underemployed or unemployed.
A lot of jobs tend to be for higher-functioning individuals. Our kids use single words, and they aren’t really readers. We don’t want them sitting around, doing nothing. So not only is it an opportunity for work, but they’re making something beautiful.”
Bath products weren’t the original goal for Miller and Kattouf. They tried other ideas first, but both their sons enjoyed making the products. They would give bath salts as gifts and then, eventually, began experimenting with soap and candles. It grew to the point where they could quit their regular jobs — Miller worked in hospital administration at St. Barnabas and Kattouf was a teacher — and commit to it full time.
“It’s something they can all have a hand in,” Kattouf said about the employees. “Some people will only put the stickers on the bottom. Others are actually making things. They all have something they actually like to do.”
For the employees who don’t like working with packaging and would rather make the products, they have that option. Making bath products is a good fit for many with autism.
“It’s repetitive, and it’s following a schedule,” Miller said. “People with autism are really good at following schedules. It’s very sensory. They test the scents, and they’re very clear about what they like and don’t like, so they don’t have to learn something they don’t want to do.”
She compared the process of people with autism looking for a job after they leave school to that of when they are first diagnosed: learning a lot of new terminology and new routines, but also learning to navigate a support system that no longer includes the education system.
It is important to Miller and Kattouf that their employees are paid and feel
“It’s a scary time,” Miller said. “You’ve been supported by the education system for years and now they’re an adult. That all rests on the parents’ shoulders.”
That’s what she and Kattouf used as motivation when they began Beloved Bath.
They had to scale back during the pandemic, as did many other businesses.
Everyone has been working from home, and, as things have started to open again, more employees have been brought back to work. According to Kattouf, customers bought soap in bulk and donated it to front-line workers. Beloved Bath was busy, selling more soap than ever before.
More information about Beloved Bath can be found at www.belovedbath.com. Miller and Kattouf also host a podcast, “Making Scents of Autism,” where they talk about their business and autism. The podcast can be listened to on Spotify.
“As a parent, you want to see them succeed and make sure they can fly,” Kattouf said. “It propelled us into this.”