PITTSBURGH — Rose Morris just wanted a safe place for her son Abram to sleep; she ended up building a specialty bed business that’s just earned national recognition from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The idea for her enterprise, Abram’s Bed, LLC, came nearly a decade ago, one afternoon after her two youngest had gone down for naps. She describes it as “divine” inspiration.

Rose and Jeff Morris’ son Abram had been diagnosed with autism at age 2 and, like half the children along the autism spectrum, he had trouble sleeping. On any given night, the exhausted parents might hear him up at 1 or 2 in the morning, out of bed and playing with his toys. Family vacations were particularly worrisome as Abram, who was nonverbal, would wander out of his room.

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For his parents, this was a major safety concern.

“I just needed him contained so he could sleep and we could sleep,” she recalled.

Options for parents of children with special needs who wander at night are not great. In the extreme, it can mean removing all the furniture, padding the walls, locking the door or maybe removing door knobs. For the Morris family, anything resembling a crate or kennel was out of the question.

The inspiration that afternoon came from Morris’ recollection of infant Abram sleeping comfortably in a crib with a covering over it — at least until he grew big enough to climb out. Her idea: Design a portable bed with a secure covering, with accessories for keeping a growing child in for the night.

With help from a friend in Texas who built covers for boats, she came up with the initial design for her “Safety Sleeper,” a fully enclosed and portable bed for children with special needs that also has been adapted for adults with traumatic brain injuries or dementia.

The first few models proved no match for Abram. “It was a game to him. ‘How do I get out of this thing?’ Every time I did something, he would undo it.”

But when they found a version that worked, there was an unanticipated added benefit: rather than feeling trapped, the cocoon-like enclosure had a calming effect on Abram, something Morris hears from “98-99 percent of our families.”

Today’s Safety Sleeper looks like a tent but in truth it’s not any tent you’ve ever taken on a camping trip. The fabric is medical-grade quality and the special mesh overhead allows video monitoring. It can come with access ports for children on feeding tubes and other modifications as well. The machine-washable bed has an enclosed mattress and its low center of gravity make it difficult to tip over and it can also be strapped down to a bed frame.

Anyone wondering about durability can check out a video on the company website, in which 6 foot, 3 inch tall, 276-pound former Steeler offensive lineman Kendall Simmons unsuccessfully tries to escape from one.

Abram’s Bed LLC sold its first bed to a family in New York in 2009. Today, the company makes the beds at a one-time dairy with seven full-time and two part-time employees.

Last year, the beds, which are sold only online domestically, generated $1 million in sales with beds being shipped to 12 other countries and, earlier this month, the U.S. Small Business Administration named The Safety Sleeper 2017’s national exporter of the year.

One recent sale was coincidentally very local. Jamee Kovacs of Monroeville, Pa. went online searching the words “beds for kids with special needs” and came across Morris’ website. The Kovacs’ son Caleb was diagnosed with Angelman syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by developmental delays and delayed speech.

“He would be awake from midnight to 6 a.m., then would sleep for 90 minutes, then be up for 10 hours,” said Kovacs. “Caleb doesn’t sleep unless there’s no other option.”

They bought the Safety Sleeper and, after 2-3 days of adjustment, “He was climbing right in it. By the third night, he was asleep within 30 minutes,” she said.

“The whole thing has been life changing for us.”

Those are the stories Morris lives for and the reason she decided to start a company.

The beds, which take 1-3 days to construct, retail for $3,789 but Morris is quick to point out they offer payment plans. A separate nonprofit, Fund It Forward, may help financially-strapped families afford the bed or medical devices not covered by insurance.

Her hope is that the SBA honor, which will be presented at a luncheon in Washington, D.C., later this month, will let more families know about the option.

“I don’t need a gold star or a plaque. It’s about getting the word out there,” she said. “The goal is to get this bed to every child who needs this bed. And you can’t get it to them if they don’t know it exists.”

© 2017 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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