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Into the Looking Glasses provides more than meets the eye

By Kyla Woodard
kyla@claytodayonline.com
Posted 7/4/24

FLEMING ISLAND —  In a little shop on Town Center Boulevard lies a place where dreams come true.  Named after  owner Amanda Monkoski’s love for Disney,  Into the Looking …

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Into the Looking Glasses provides more than meets the eye


Posted

FLEMING ISLAND — In a little shop on Town Center Boulevard lies a place where dreams come true. Named after owner Amanda Monkoski’s love for Disney, Into the Looking Glasses is an optical shop that is more than meets the eye.

Opening back in September, the shop specializes in optical eyewear and experiences for those with disabilities, including autism and Down syndrome.

As the mom to an autistic child, Monkoski, LDO, said she knew what it felt like not having any options or resources. 

“If I can provide families with one less thing to worry about or make it easier, then that’s what I want to do,” Monkoski said. 

For children with autism, Monkoski said that the store provides three different brands of glasses that come with straps. Monkoksi said it's common for children with autism to throw things, including their glasses. These accommodations secure the glasses behind the child’s head when worn, making them harder to take off. 

And for those with Down syndrome, Monkoski said her shop carries the brand Erin’s World, which provides a special bridge around the nose and shorter temple links. 

Monkoski said the brand was started by a mom who had a child with Down syndrome. 

“People with Down syndrome generally have flatter bridges and a shorter temple span,” Monkoski said. “So, if you put a typical pair of glasses on them, they probably won’t fit.” 

Additionally, Monkoski said children may want a specific color and theme as well, and she is there to provide it with a variety of choices to pick from at affordable prices. 

“They get fixated on one thing, I want a green pair, I want a blue pair, I want a red pair,” Monkoski said. “So, I try and incorporate that as well.” 

There is no men’s or women’s section in the shop. Monkoski said the only thing that’s divided is size, making the choices much more inclusive.

Not only does Monkoski aim to provide more optical options for those with special needs, but she also provides a better atmosphere for them as well. 

Monkoski said she has worked for several big-name stores that don’t provide a child-friendly atmosphere, especially for those with special needs.

“If you’ve got a kid that’s easily overwhelmed, and you're in a big store and there’s a lot of noise and a lot of people and the colors are bright and bold, it can lead to a meltdown,” Monkoski said. “So, I wanted to create something with soft colors, stuff to do. Not necessarily just stand there and wait for Mom and Dad to pick out my glasses for me.”

At Into the Looking Glasses, Monkoski said children have a choice. 

With plenty of space to run around, rooms filled with games and interactive elements, an activity board, books, tumble mats, stuffed animals, a large bean bag to sit and a TV, the shop has found a way to provide parents with certainty that their child will be accepted and comfortable.

“That kind of gives me a chance to talk to the caregiver. And it kind of puts the caregiver at ease to know that they don’t have to rush,” Monkoski said. “They don’t have to worry about their kid.”

Monkoski said this sense of comfort was seen with the first school-age child that she had at her shop. 

“He was active. He was doing laps around here, and his mom was like, ‘Stop running.’ I was like, ‘He’s fine,’” Monkoski said. “This is what it’s made for. So, she was happy that she didn’t have to constantly correct him to behave.”

Monkoski, who has been an optical professional for 26 years and licensed in the state of Florida for eight, said the shop's inclusive and interactive concept came from her frustration with not being able to easily find services for her own child. 

Initially working under another practice for 12 years, she said that was the first time she was able to actively care for her child without consequences.

“When my child was acting up at school, I could leave without getting in trouble...and, I see so many stories where parents can’t do that," Monkoski said.

Once the owner passed away, Monkoski said the practice lost its familial atmosphere. And, she missed it. 

So, in turn, she said she took the love of her profession and the love of her child and combined the two. 

Monkoski said that with the ongoing growth of Into the Looking Glasses she hopes to provide that same grace to other employees who work there. 

“If they need to bring their kid, bring your kid,” Monkoski said. “That’s what it’s designed for.” 

Monkoski said that she wanted her shop to be different. And, she said the different nature it possesses has reflected well with her customers. 

For Elizabeth Dominguez, she said that the shop was able to give her son an experience that accommodated him in the best way. 

Dominguez said that Gus, who is a brain tumor patient, struggles with regulating his emotions and being in certain social situations. 

“He was already extremely against wanting to get eyeglasses,” Dominguez said. “So, I thought ok this could be the answer to my prayers.” 

Dominguez said she was blown away with how lovely the shop was. She said as soon as Gus walked in and saw the TV playing his favorite shows, his demeanor instantly changed. 

“While we worked on paperwork, doing all the basic things, it was like he was comfortable,” Dominguez said. “And it turned into a great experience. Which I couldn’t have asked for more.”

Dominguez, who travels all the way from Fernandina Beach, said she will continue coming to Into the Looking Glasses as it provides an outlet for her child. She said being a mom of a child with behavioral and medical special needs is not easy. 

“Fighting for accommodations for him is what spends most of our time,” Dominguez said. “It’s not the kids themselves or the people, it’s the system. Trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.” 

Dominguez said that’s why Monkoski’s mission and advocacy are so needed.

For the future of her shop, Monkoski said she hopes to expand and become a full-on optometry facility, offering direct eye care to in-store patients, including same-day eyeglass making.

Additionally, Monkoski said she aims to create a larger space where her patients can get additional support, including speech therapy and dental care.

“After we can achieve those, in another three, four, five years, I’d like to build a facility,” Monkoski said. “And, not just for what I do, but to bring in other therapists and other professionals that help in this field. A one-stop-shop, so to speak.” 

Monkoski said Into the Looking Glasses will continue advocating for those with special needs. 

“Everybody knows somebody with autism. Pretty much,” Monkoski said. “So, to have a population that big and not be served is sad.”