When Deborah Brodie started Bop Along Buddies in 2011, she could not have known the impact it would have on people's lives.
The inflatable animal bouncers she started out selling from her home are now available in 58 Australian stores as well as being distributed around the world, with parents and medical specialists alike advocating their benefits.
"Having seen the effect of Type 2 diabetes and other weight problems prevalent in children through my career in pharmaceutical sales, I wanted to create a fun aerobic activity that would enhance motor-skills development," Brodie says.
"I thought if I designed a farm of inflatable animal-shaped bouncers that would strengthen upper- and lower-body movement, I might also be able to help the wider community of children who suffer in the areas of cerebral palsy and autism."
Brodie's wish has come true, as Kristie Chambers' daughter Avalon Jade is a case study of success.
Avalon was born at 30 weeks' gestation via an emergency caesarean section. Due to a low birth weight of 1kg and a near-fatal infection, Avalon suffered damage to the white matter in her brain, in a condition known as periventricular leukomalacia.
At the age of one, Avalon was diagnosed with cerebral palsy tripelgia, which affects one arm and both legs.
"We went to the markets at Rouse Hill [north-west Sydney] and we saw the stand for Bop Along Buddies and we thought one of the farm animals would be good for Avalon," Chambers says. "Avalon immediately took to it and spends hours a day – in short intervals – sitting on her new friend, who she calls 'buddy'.
"The great thing about it is that children don't even know that they are strengthening their core muscles because they are having fun. We put two pillows either side of Avalon when she is on 'buddy', and now at the age of three years old she is trying to climb on him by herself. We can see her strength improving.
"We were so impressed with the toy that we took it to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and they bought some. When we actually met Deborah we found out how much research she had put into her animals and that made us feel good about buying them too."
Brodie, with degrees in criminology and communication, did a lot of research into phthalates, which are commonly found in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) toys.
Phthalates are a family of organic chemicals that are produced from oil and are commonly used in PVC products to make them soft and flexible.
"The main health concern associated with some phthalates is that studies have shown that regular doses can affect the reproductive system in developing young, particularly males," Brodie says. "While there is no significant risk to the general population, young children may experience higher exposures than the general population if they play, chew or suck on phthalate-containing toys.
"Generally, young children are more vulnerable to chemical hazards for a variety of reasons. Their bodies, internal organs and major physiological systems are still growing and developing. Metabolic, immunological, hormonal and reproductive systems are immature and more vulnerable to toxins."
As a result, Brodie has designed all her toys to contain none of the internationally banned phthalates. "We currently exceed any Australian standard as we make these toys to the EU standard, which specifies that these must not be present in children's toys," Brodie says.
Brodie, who has two young children of her own, Grace and Angus, still runs the business with a skeleton staff, which also involves her husband Lachlan on a part-time basis.
"It is challenging but I love it and the business is growing very fast," she says. "We are getting calls from a variety of different people and organisations, including some of which are in medical therapy."
Dave Jereb and his wife started Move About Therapy Services in Norwest Business Park 12 years ago. The paediatric clinic specialises in occupational and speech therapy, along with psychology for children.
"We saw the Bop Along Buddies toys in a store and we bought some for our clinic," Jereb says. "We have been amazed at how popular they are and even the adults want to play on them.
"The benefits we see in the toys are that they are helping children build core stability while having fun. They help address body posture challenges and develop the legs of children.
"It is important with children who are born or acquire physical or mental challenges to continue to develop their fine and gross motor skills and these toys help with that. We encourage postural exercises wherever we can and doing it in a fun way helps a lot."