Cafe in Asia is Dedicated to Raising Autism Awareness

autism bakery

In a small cafe in the Philippines, change is brewing. Jose Canoy, a 20-year old, joins several other employees – all with autism – in their training to be part of the most autistically-aware coffee shop yet.

Canoy’s older brother, Jose Antonio, co-owns the shop. His family made the executive decision to open the Puzzle Cafe to promote and incorporate their son’s disorder into the workplace. The Puzzle Cafe, of course, is a reference to the international symbol for autism – a puzzle piece.

By laying out the next steps for Canoy in picturesque index cards, he is able to follow and identify what moves he should make next. Alongside six other new trainees, two of which have Down Syndrome, these new employees are guided by these cue cards as well as a therapist. The cafe takes every precaution to ensure their new employees are both comfortable and productive behind the counter; The coffee shop also promotes autism awareness in the community by selling decorations made by local people with autism.

This is a huge step in bringing social experience to those with the disorder. Incorporating these young adults is a milestone – providing them with endless possibilities for their working future.

The cafe has brought comfort to the community, particularly those with a family member who is affected by the disorder. Rina dela Paz, a woman who frequents the cafe with her husband and young son with autism, told reporters that she “feels that I belong.”

In the Philippines alone, there is an estimated one million citizens with autism. Yet due to a serious lack of doctors, therapists, and trained professionals, only 100,000 of this estimated number has been officially diagnosed.

This shop, so seemingly small and insignificant, has set the template for many other businesses to follow – hopefully making a step in promoting that “different is not bad.”

By Kathleen O’Toole, University of Maine

Plastic Figurines: An Artistic Take on Autistic Realities

plastic figurines play about autism

Recently, the spotlight has been shining on characters who represent the special needs community in theatrical productions. Plays such as “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night,” have increased social awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Ellen Carmen Greenhill hopes to achieve such success with her play, “Plastic Figurines.”

Greenhill has first-hand experience caring for someone on the spectrum, who happens to be her brother. Drawing on her personal memories, she’s used her story to create a wonderful work of art detailing what life has been like, both from the autistic mind of her brother and as her caretaker role.

The play focuses on a girl named Rose. Following the death of her mother, the young woman takes custody of her 18-year-old brother Michael, who has ASD. The story follows their relationship as they overcome obstacles thrown at them via familial grief, stigmatism, and the daily joys and struggles that autism brings.

In developing her work, Greenhill has created a masterpiece that is at once authentically informative and emotionally touching. She presents autism in an upfront manner, but takes care to discuss the wonderful quirks it can add to daily life. Reviews have stated that her unique perspective has “enabled her to write lightly about autism without taking autism lightly.”

More information about “Plastic Figurines” is available here. 

By Sara Power, Fordham University

Assembly Member Helene Weinstein Visits Shema Kolainu

helene weinstein visits shema kolainu

Shema Kolainu breakfast with New York State Assembly Member Helene Weinstein. (Left-Right: Ezra Friedlander- CEO of The Friedlander Group, Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, Shema Kolainu CEO Dr. Joshua Weinstein, IEP Coordinator Chani Katz, Program Director Suri Gruen)

As a member of The New York State Assembly, Helene Weinstein has long acted as an advocate for family and child services.

Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein paid a visit to Shema Kolainu School and Center for Children With Autism for a formal tour of the school while she learned about the standout programs offered. The day began with an intimate breakfast and discussion with Shema Kolainu administrators including CEO Dr. Joshua Weinstein.

Ms. Weinstein has attended events with Shema Kolainu before, having spoken at last year’s Legislative Breakfast. As someone who has fought hard to pass legislation protecting both children and the disabled, she was interested to learn more about the services offered to children with autism in our community and how the children are able to obtain them. She presides over District 141, which includes many of the children who attend school here.

Over bread rolls and orange juice, administrators explained the history of Shema Kolainu. The politician was intrigued to learn what services are offered through Shema Kolainu that are not offered in the public school system, particularly a preschool program exclusively for children with autism.

Following the discussion, Ms. Weinstein was given a tour of the school where she met many of the children. After observing the classroom activities through one-way windows where children cannot see their observers, she was brought into several different classrooms of preschool and school-aged kids. The children were eager to shake hands and pose for photos with their guest.

Assemblywoman Weinstein was also shown the hallmark facilities of Shema Kolainu- The Multisensory Room, where the children are soothed by devices that stimulate all five senses, and The Adaptive Daily Living Skills Center, where kids learn hands-on life skills like grocery shopping and chores.

To complete the tour, Ms. Weinstein was shown the rooftop, which will hopefully be the future site of two more floors of classrooms that will service older children who age out of the current K-5 offerings. She brought up her own concerns that older children with autism may not have access to the services they need.

With the help of social services advocates and legislators like Helene Weinstein, Shema Kolainu- Hear Our Voices is driven to collaborate for increased awareness that will lead to more and better services for young people on the autism spectrum.


Autism Resource Shop Opens in the Bay Area

twilight turtle for autism kids

Natural Autism Resources offer therapeutic devices like Twilight Turtle, pictured above

National Autism Resources has been an online retailer since 2008. They are known for providing specialized tools and technologies that cater to the autism community.

In September 2014, the company opened their first physical walk-in store in Benicia, California, a city in the Bay Area region. It is the first store of its kind on the west coast and third in the whole country. The creators are skilled in selecting the right products that are proven to be successful.

Local resident, Kat Negrete, is overjoyed with the news of this new business. She is the mother of 3-year-old Johnny who tends to have trouble with loud noises and transitioning from one thing to the next.

She often uses toys and games to help keep her son calm. But locating these particular toys may be somewhat difficult. Negrete recalls a time where she was so distraught when she visited a well-known teaching supply store that has no resources for special needs children.

National Autism Resources has over 120 vendors that they pull their products from. There is a lot of research and work going into making sure the items they sell will be helpful. This may be the reason why there aren’t more stores like this, but with an estimated 1 in 68 children now being diagnosed with ASD, there still stands a strong need for local, available resources.

Store owner Bonnie Arnwine also has a son with autism and understands the demand for a shop like hers. Here, a shopper can find over 1,600 products that may look like simple toys but are actually effective therapeutic tools.

One example is the GoTalk 9+, their most popular speech device. It helps people who are just starting augmentative communication. There is also an item called Twilight Turtle that is used to help calm children or put them to sleep. The soft lights illuminate the room with constellations, which helps ease the child.  Arnwine believes this is more than just a store or job, but rather her purpose. She quotes her business’s motto, “Love, Hope, and Support Autism.”

Read the original article from CBS San Francisco.

A Passport to Understanding the Nonverbal

nonverbal communication autism

Non-verbality is problematic not only for the obvious impediment to social interaction, but also because it impedes necessary communication. Statistics state that persons on the autism spectrum and other learning disabilities can die up to 20 years prematurely due to a lack of care.

It’s important to note that such a lack of care is not malicious; practitioners and family members simply do not always know when their loved one is in distress. What might appear to be routine stimming (i.e. flapping of the hands) may actually be an attempt to signal an ailment or discomfort for which they cannot find the words to express.

The problem is multi-fold. First, persons with ASD sometimes lack the self-awareness to identify that they are ill or in pain. Second, they may not have the appropriate means to alert others to their distress. Third, certain individuals who are hyposensitive simply may not feel what would be extremely painful for typically developing people. Of course, there are many other reasons behind this debacle, and these are just a few.

To combat such issues, medical health care professionals have developed systems such as visual pain scales, EasyHealth demonstrations, and Books Beyond Words. The latter are particularly useful because they give visual representations of how a person might feel, describe, and treat their ailments.

For those who are nonverbal, the struggle is all the more difficult because they have few means, if any, to properly alert caregivers to their ailments. To combat this, the National Autistic Society has created “passports” for such autistics that they carry on them, detailing their medical history and needs. By compiling this information in a mobile manner, professionals understand why the individual may be acting unusual and possibly identify what the source of their problem is based on past occurrences.

Just because a person can’t say what they’re feeling doesn’t mean that they don’t feel it. Not only does this apply to the autistic community, but to the global community at large. In order to benefit the masses, it’s vital to remember that we don’t all say what’s wrong. Sometimes listening with our eyes, ears, and hearts is the best bridge toward understanding.

By Sara Power, Fordham University

Spectrum Singles: A New Dating Experience

spectrum singles for autism

One of the most daunting tasks for individuals living on the autism spectrum is developing relationships.

Inhibited by their understanding of social cues and emotions, the world is too often an unfriendly place when others misread their intentions. It’s already difficult enough for anyone to find the perfect match without the added obstacle of sensory issues, physical limitations, or other symptoms typical of ASD.

To alleviate this problem, specifically with romance in mind, 18-year-old Olivia Cantu and her mother Kristen Fitzpatrick have developed a new dating website called Spectrum Singles. Olivia, who offers a first-hand perspective on the difficulties of dating when you have ASD, describes it on their homepage,, as: “A unique dating and social media website created BY people on the spectrum FOR people on the spectrum.”

Though support group and interaction-oriented websites for people with autism already exist, Olivia points out that they are often developed by neurotypicals. As a result, the people using these programs don’t get the full benefit they need because people on the other side of the spectrum simply don’t understand.

Through her program, Olivia has developed a 184-question test called the Spectrum Compatibility Test. The questionnaire works with users on the autism spectrum by “narrowing the field from thousands of prospects to match your spectrum attributes with a select group of spectrum compatible matches with whom you can build a quality relationship.” Questions cover topics as universal as sexual preferences to ASD-focused options regarding social comfort and attention-related tendencies.

The mother-daughter generated dating sight went up early January. The women have also started a YouTube channel covering dating tips for autistic partners.

By Sara Power, Fordham University

Tennessee’s Artistic Spectrum

artistic spectrum launches

This month, Eastern Tennessee will be raising awareness for Autism Spectrum Disorder in the form of a number of traveling attractions.

Artistic Spectrum is a non-profit founded in Knoxville. They are dedicated to providing creative and recreational opportunities for children on the spectrum while also educating the public about their special needs.

Their goals are three-fold:

  • To organize fine art workshops which develop the individual talents of persons with ASD

  • To facilitate family-oriented events where children with ASD are welcomed and accepted

  • To work with other arts venues and museums to create Autism Arts opportunities for families to attend fine arts performances and events

Thus far, this month’s events have comprised of speciality cocktail hours, sensory-friendly haircuts, and an art field trip via “the Love Bus.” It will be interesting to see what else they have in store for the days to come!

App Coding Program for Young Adults with Autism

autism technology

Like many parents of autistic children, Todd Fabacher hopes that his son will have an opportunity to gain a job skill that allows him to function in today’s society.

Although autism affects social and communication skills, many young people on the spectrum  are highly skilled in other ways. Those at LiveCode, led by Fabacher, have teamed up with the National Autistic Society, Specialisterne & Autism Initiatives to develop some of those skills that will help lead to employment.

The software company from Edinburgh, Scotland strives to make a difference within their community. LiveCode believes that anyone can learn to code and build mobile, desktop, and server applications. Employment in technology is in very high demand and could be a good match for workers on the autism spectrum.

On April 2nd they launched the campaign “Empower Individuals With Autism Through Coding.” Their goal is to raise $350,000 in order to give 3,000 autistic individuals a 6-month online training course.

The course is geared towards people with no previous knowledge of programming or coding. It starts off by teaching how to create replicas of simple, everyday tools such as calculators, clocks, or messaging apps. The program also encourages and allows space for each person to bring on a mentor like a parent of friend, to take the course with them. Part of the curriculum also includes an introduction to the technology industry. Through workshops and webinars, participants are able to explore topics such as self-employment.

After a student successfully completes the course, LiveCode plans to make an online marketplace where participants can look for work or advertise their services as an app developer. Also, if goals are met successfully, LiveCode and Autism Initiatives will be hiring some of those trainees for a special project. They would like to build an e-book application called LiveCode Publisher. This particular app will help users make their own interactive e-books.

By creating a program like this, their ultimate goal is to provide better employment opportunities for individuals with autism.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

Applied Behavior Analysis: Opening New Doors

Shortly after an autism diagnosis is made, parents are typically recommended to navigate the tricky waters of behavioral analysis services for their child.

Applied behavior analysis (or ABA), is defined as “…the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree”. It targets areas where core symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder are usually expressed, namely in behavior patterns, communication, and social skills. It is useful when teaching children with autism behaviors that they may not adopt on their own (such as understanding sarcasm, or limiting repeated behavior). 

As ABA is one of the more common intervention plans for children with autism, it is understandable that there may be some misgivings in its application. Critics of the intervention program accuse it of ‘forcing’ children with ASD to be someone that they are not, meaning that they are being forced to behave and act differently than they would naturally.

However, those in favor of ABA intervention argue that there is no ‘forced’ change in the child at all. They insist that these treatment programs are tools to guide these children and they are helping them to learn to communicate and connect with their peers and those around them. 

Human connection is not just a want, but a necessary component for living a fulfilling life. By teaching these children specific behavioral, communicative, and social skills, behavior therapists are ensuring that these children will have the necessary skills to interact with people as they grow and develop.

Critics who argue against ‘forced’ social skills (insisting that many people with autism prefer to stick to themselves) don’t necessarily understand that by teaching these children how to interact and giving them tools which are necessary to socialize comfortably, they are also given a choice of how to utilize these tools- and a choice of whether to be social or to be more isolated. 

ABA need not teach children with autism to be someone else, but rather, to develop into a different version of themselves- a version where they have control over their own behavior, socialization and communication.

ABA can provide a child with a sharpened awareness of how others perceive them, and also give them a knowledge of behaviors, communication, and social skills that they wouldn’t necessarily pick up on on their own. 

By Sydney Chasty, Carleton University

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Television Star Addressed Hurtful Comment in a Powerful Letter

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Parents of autistic children are often subjected to judgment by others, and reality star Jacqueline Laurita is no exception to that.

You may have seen her in the cast of the Real Housewives of New Jersey television series. She has three children but her youngest, Nicholas, was diagnosed with autism at about the age of 2.

When he was 18 months old she noticed he wasn’t meeting the same developmental milestones as other children were. His speech and motor skills regressed. He stopped answering to his name and preferred to play by himself. All the while she also noticed Nicholas made strides in recognizing letters, numbers, and was great with the iPad.

Since then, Laurita has dedicated her time to educating herself and becoming an advocate for other parents of children with ASD. She quickly learned that symptoms can be alleviated through early intervention. One particular episode showed Nicholas’s ability to regain his speech skills. Laurita’s husband, Chris, had been working diligently with their son to say one simple phrase: “I love you.” Although it is only three words it brought the entire room to tears and was extremely heartwarming to witness.

Recently, an insensitive comment was posted on Facebook that struck a chord with Laurita. The commenter suggested that it was wrong to give birth to a child with autism because it would be a waste of resources.

Initially, Laurita was extremely angry but decided to take it as an opportunity to educate people about what autism really means. As many may already know, autism isn’t something that can be detected before or even at birth; children are typically diagnosed around the age of 2 when symptoms become more apparent.

The New Jersey mother also explained that autism is a neurological developmental disorder that affects social and communication skills. She then listed 30 well-known artists, politicians, and academics who all have, or who were suspected to have, autism.

Using these facts, Laurita pointed out that people on the spectrum are not a “waste” of resources, since many of them have greatly contributed to the improvement and advancement of society. Without them we wouldn’t be where we are today. She concluded by stating that individuals with autism are different and in no way are less of a person. 

Click here to read the full letter.

Written by Raiza Belarmino