ViSalus CEO Ryan Blair Tackles Autism
Ryan Blair had nothing to lose until the day he became a father. As fate would have it, the day Ryan published his first book, “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain” was the day he discovered his son, Reagan, was diagnosed with autism. “I coined the term ‘having nothing to lose’ and when you have a child you have everything to lose,” he tells MiLLENNiAL.
The 37-year-old CEO of ViSalus, one of the most popular health supplement companies in the country, explains his life changed when he noticed symptoms in his son. Ryan says Reagan was “hard to engage, didn’t make any eye contact, and would have seizures.” He knew Reagan needed a professional diagnosis.
The State of Autism in the U.S.
In March of 2014, the Center of Disease Control (CDC) released a report on autism stating that the number of children being affected has risen 30 percent since 2012. Evaluating 8-year-olds from across the country, the research estimates 1 in 68 have autism. The study presents findings over the course of seven years and shows a significant increase:
2007 = 1 in 150
2009 = 1 in 110
2012 = 1 in 88
Editors from the scholarly journal, Autism, argue the CDC’s numbers don’t accurately reflect the true number of autistic children in the United States and suggest their findings are conservative. The CDC recently received a lot of heat after a whistleblower came forward stating that senior scientists omitted information in a 2004 report that linked vaccinations to autism.
Reacting to this news, Ryan admits, “I saw a noticeable change in my son after his first vaccination and I can’t necessarily pin it just to that but I did see a difference.” He says that with the rise in numbers, you have to consider everything your child is injected with or consumes. “You can’t rule out vaccines, prenatal care, or nutrition. And as a father, I wish I had done more testing on my son’s immune system, on his nutrition, and blood work prior to allowing him to be vaccinated.”
It is still relatively unknown what specifically triggers autism, but researchers from over 50 laboratories contributed to a study recently published in science journal, Nature. Scientists from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory who were a part of the research discuss finding over 100 spontaneous gene mutations in autistic children that they believe are responsible for 30 percent of autism cases.
How the Disorder Affects Family Life
Ryan emphasizes, “Autism affects every family differently.” According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is defined as a range of “complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.”
These communicative restraints and erratic physical responses can cause unforeseen hardships among parents. Ryan tells us, “There is an extremely high divorce rate associated with autism. It’s very difficult for families to endure.” As a single parent himself, Ryan admits that he struggled with managing his son’s developmental disabilities while also properly working on his relationship with Reagan’s mother. He recently spoke on a panel with Jenny McCarthy on parenting and marriage in Dallas at the Autism Education Summit to provide some insight for parents battling similar issues.
But as challenging as having a child with autism can be, Ryan insists, “a lot of people don’t realize that autism is a gift as well. If a child has to suppress one sensory, they’ll often develop a magnitude in another one to compensate. So where my son’s communication is poor, he has also developed strengths in many other ways.”
Ryan suggests the best way to support a family member or friend with an autistic child is to offer to babysit. “As a single parent I wish I had friends who said “let me take Reagan” because you can’t just put your son in the hands of a stranger, you want them to know the person.” He stresses how an hour or two can make all the difference in the lives of these parents.
Using Reagan to Develop New Products for ViSalus
Running a multi-million dollar corporation known for its exceptional weight loss programs and health restoration, Ryan became determined to find a solution for Reagan’s finicky eating habits. He says getting him to eat anything that wasn’t high in sugar and low in nutrients was difficult.
As most parents can relate, children normally aren’t eager to eat their veggies, which is why Ryan wanted to create a cereal he could feel good serving his son. In the process of developing ViCrunch, Ryan says, “Reagan and I taste-tested bowls and bowls of cereal together. When he gave me two thumbs up I gave our scientists the same.”
This specific user testing experience is what Ryan believes to be the future of business. The paradigm is shifting from products that people will buy to creating experiences that people will remember.” Just as tasting bowls of cereal with his son will leave a lasting memory for them both, the newest trend will now be about understanding the client to the fullest. “You’ll see businesses turn people-centric as opposed to product-centric.” To add to this “people-centric” view, consumers are also demanding companies become more socially conscious. As a millennial, part of Ryan’s belief system is about giving back. “I really believe in the model that you receive ten fold what you give.”
To reinvent ViSalus, Ryan led the charge to create the Project 10 Kids initiative where he has given over 4 million meals to kids as part of his community challenge, and has supported over 40,000 kids with products necessary for them to lose weight.
While this very successful serial entrepreneur has seen his fair share of hardships, his determination to keep pushing forward is what makes him a hero to many.
To learn more about Ryan Blair and his life journey, view his documentary “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain” on his website. It reveals a deeper look at what he overcame and accomplished throughout his life. For every “like” or “share” he has pledged to donate a dollar to various autistic charities.