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