How One Cafe Is Changing the Way People in the Philippines See Autism

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Jose Canoy had difficulties adjusting to the routine of his new job at Puzzle Cafe in Quezon City, Philippines. Jose, who has autism, didn’t like his clothes getting dirty or food that had strong smells, and he had trouble responding to customers who asked questions that weren’t part of the script he was following, Ysabella Canoy, Jose’s sister, told The Mighty in an email.

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Jose Canoy standing outside of the cafe during construction. Via Ysabella Canoy.

But nine months later, Jose, 21, successfully maneuvers the store’s waffle maker, coffee machine and deep fryer and regularly has conversations with customers. He’s thriving at his family’s business, which opened in December 2014.

Last year as Jose’s three siblings began to start planning their futures, the Canoys realized they needed to help Jose plan his too. They wanted him to be happy at his job and work with people who were sensitive to his needs. So, the Canoys opened Puzzle Cafe, and now they have nine employees with special needs — eight employees have autism and one has Down syndrome.

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The outside of Puzzle Cafe. Via Ysabella Canoy.

“We want to be a community where families of kids and adults with special needs can feel that they are understood and prioritized,” Ysabella, 23, told The Mighty. “A place where they don’t have to be worried about being kicked out or stared at. At the same time, we want to be a community where individuals with special needs can work and be given a chance to show what they are capable of, a place where they can prepare themselves for work in bigger companies, a place where they will be treated just like anybody else.”

While the Canoys had no experience in the restaurant business, the entire family has pitched in to help grow their business. Ysabella quit her job as a preschool teacher to work full-time handling the inquiries and training of the cafe’s employees. Their mom handles the menu and grocery shopping while their dad handles all the driving. Another one of Jose’s sisters and his sister-in-law work as waitresses and grocery runners. Jose and his brother also helped with construction.

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Some of the employees at Puzzle Cafe. Via Ysabella Canoy.

While Puzzle Cafe has transformed the Canoys’ lives, it’s also having an impact on customers. Ysabella says her family often has to explain Jose’s autism to strangers in the Philippines at places like the airport, mall and local businesses. Now, the cafe initiates conversations about disabilities.

“We have such a long way to go,” Ysabella told The Mighty. “We’re learning every single day, but I know that opening our doors to individuals with special needs and their families has been the best decision we’ve made.”

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How a Teen With Autism Went From Picky Eater to Host of His Own Cooking Show

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Chase Bailey is paving his own way in the culinary world.

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Photo rom the Chase ‘N Yur Face Facebook page

Chase, 13, loves to cook and eat different foods from all kinds of places. But if you’d met him when he was younger, exploring new flavors would probably be the last thing he’d enjoy. Chase, who has autism, was an extremely picky eater as a toddler. His mom, Mary Bailey, struggled to get him to eat anything other than a select five foods he liked.

Years later, Chase started getting into watching cooking shows on TV. That’s when everything changed.

Learning about different foods on TV helped Chase become a more adventurous eater. When he was 11 years old, he decided he wanted to try cooking himself.

“I was watching all of these chefs and all of the food they were making and thought, ‘I can do that,’” Chase, who lives in Irvine, California, told California Bountiful, a magazine and TV program about food production in California.

And he has. Chase is now a burgeoning chef who stars in “Chase ‘N Yur Face,” his own comedy cooking show. In each episode, Chase interviews guest chefs who teach him how to make different kinds of foods from around the world. In turn, Chase teaches his audience about his favorite recipes. The show is filmed in restaurants where the chefs work, as well as in Chase’s kitchen. Past videos have featured recipes for everything from macaroni and cheese to braised rabbit with sweet potato gnocchi.

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Screenshot via YouTube video below
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Chase making gorditos al pastor with Chef Gaby Patrick (video below)

Chase and his mom, who produces the show, cook together every day, and Bailey often uses cooking as an instructional tool to teach Chase about a variety of subjects. She says the cooking shows her son watched had a way of getting through to him like no one else was able to do.

“I think he was drawn to the cooking show because he was able to first watch from a distance and become comfortable with it,” Bailey says in a video about how “Chase ‘N Yur Face” got its start.”That final step for him is actually touching and doing. It was just a process he needed to go through with food that most people don’t need.”

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Chase with his mom, Mary Bailey. Photo from the Chase ‘N Yur Face Facebook page

Delving into cooking has done more for Chase than just open him up to different types of foods — it’s helped him become more confident with others and in front of the camera. Walter Pridgen, an acting coach who’s worked with Chase for nearly a year, told The OC Register that Chase’s motor skills have also improved through working on the show.

Chase’s next goal is to host his own reality cooking show on TV. He also dreams of owning several restaurants. But in the meantime, he’ll keep on making people laugh as he teaches them to create his favorite recipes.

“He found something that was important to him. Something that he felt he could do,” Bailey says in the video. “This is something that is a path for him. This is a potential livelihood for him.”

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Screenshot via YouTube video below
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Photo courtesy of Chase ‘N Yur Face

Watch an episode of “Chase ‘N Yur Face” — in which Chase learns to make gorditas al pastor — in the video below.

 

To learn more about “Chase ‘N Yur Face” and see more of his highly entertaining videos, visit his websiteFacebook page and YouTube channel.

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5 Reasons I Choose to Self-Disclose My Autism

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I believe self-disclosure is very important, especially as individuals grow up. Regardless of what disability, disease, illness or disorder one may have, self-advocacy is crucial for adults. I believe self-disclosure is one form of self-advocacy. After my first job, I decided to self-disclose as early as appropriate in every interview. Here are five reasons why I choose to self-disclose my autism spectrum disorder:

1. I want people to know exactly what they’re getting.

The first job interview I ever had and the first job I ever got, I didn’t disclose until after several months on the job. I was having a really difficult time and wasn’t being treated well, so I hoped that disclosing would give them a reason to treat me better. It didn’t. Looking back, I wish I had disclosed during my interview. If they aren’t comfortable hiring me because I am autistic, then I wouldn’t be comfortable working for them. Now I disclose as quickly as possible. And when I got hired, it felt really good. The people I would be working with educated themselves ahead of time. We get along really well.

2. I want people to know I’m not ashamed.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. I’m proud of myself for all of the things I have done and I continue to do. Autism is a significant part of who I am. I’m not ashamed of being autistic just like I’m not ashamed of having blue eyes. I don’t have control over my genes. You get what you get and you don’t get upset.

3. I want people to know it’s OK to ask questions.

By self-disclosing, I’m opening myself up to questions. I want people to ask questions. I don’t particularly want to answer them, but I’m thankful people care enough to want to know what helps me most. We’re all different so what helps me may not help someone else on the autism spectrum.

4. I want people to know I may struggle in some areas, but I can excel in others.

It seems that not making eye contact makes people think that I may not be capable of doing other things, like living independently and working a full-time job. I may not be good at eye contact, but I can put together a complete scouting report, make videos and complete a statistical analysis. I may not always be able to get the words out in the right order, but I learn quickly. My senses may overwhelm me easily, but I still like to do things like go to the movies, arcades, and sporting events (with my headphones).

5. I want people to know people with autism are good.

We don’t hate everyone. We aren’t incapable of love. We aren’t emotionless. We love, we play, we learn, we share, we teach. We are good just like you.

Erin McKinney the mighty.1

Follow this journey on Erinmmckinney.

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When a Stylist Lost It While Cutting the Hair of My Son With Autism

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I was surprised how much one afternoon at the hair salon threw me for a loop. My son, Nolan, and our family had been through so many tough moments that I thought I was more resilient, had a tougher skin and couldn’t get rattled easily. But I was rattled that day in the hair salon.

My son was born with a severe cardiac defect and has had five open-heart surgeries and too many other procedures and operations to count. He wouldn’t eat as an infant from being intubated so many times and had to have a feeding tube implanted in his stomach for a couple of years. During one of his early heart surgeries, he had three strokes and ended up on life support and nearly died.

His stay in the hospital was supposed to last seven to eight days, but he was there for three months. He was also diagnosed with autism at the age of 3.

We had been through a lot in those first few years and celebrated every small achievement like it was a world record. We had a huge party with all of our family and friends on his first birthday to celebrate that he had survived such a daunting year. He was a blessing and a miracle in so many ways, and we were thrilled with the little things and so happy to have moments that were typical in any family, like getting a haircut.

Nolan was 8 years old the day we went to the hair salon. He still struggled with language and sensory issues and had a hard time sitting still. I tried to set him up for success by saying we could go get ice cream if he and his brothers all sat still and did a good job in the salon chair. Nolan was repeating his plan: “Don’t wiggle, eyes up, sit still.” We had written down the plan on a little piece of paper so he could see the schedule: first haircut then ice cream.

When Nolan sat down in the chair, I explained to the hairstylist that he had autism and could tend to be hard to work with. I asked her if she was OK with that and she said she was.

As she began to cut his hair, he began to shift his shoulders up and squirm in his seat. She asked me to “hold him down.” I was thrown off by her request but tried to sit by him to calm him down and talk him through it. We practiced counting by twos and spelling simple words since this has always been a good way to redirect him. He did much better counting his numbers, and the hairstylist was able to use the scissors to cut his hair.

The calm, however, all fell apart when she took the clippers out. He got upset at the noise and the vibration of the clippers on his neck and began to wiggle out of the chair. I had been through this many times before and tried to explain to her that she needed to give him a minute to feel the clippers in his hand to understand it wouldn’t hurt. I told her he could be fearful and overly sensitive to things he felt could hurt him. For example, he would panic anytime someone tried to put a Band-Aid on him. After getting IVs and his blood drawn so many times, he associated Band-Aids with pain and trauma. Little things like that scared him.

At this point, the hairstylist lost it. She threw the clippers down on her cabinet and said, “He is done. I don’t have to put up with this. You should just shave his head and be done with it. Why does it matter if he has a decent haircut anyway?” 

Mary Levinson the mighty.2-001

In all of my time parenting Nolan, I have always worked hard to help people better understand him. I was used to people collaborating with me to find solutions, not being judgmental and giving up so easily. I asked Nolan to stand up and I did something I had never done before. I lifted his shirt to show her his red angry scars from his most recent heart surgery. As I started to well up with tears, I told her she didn’t deserve to cut his hair and he was one of the strongest people I had ever known and only the privileged got to be in his presence.

She was dumbstruck and began to stutter out a weak apology. I threw money on the checkout desk to pay for the haircuts and walked out shaking. I stood on the sidewalk with Nolan while my other boys finished their haircuts. I paced back and forth and tried to fight back the tears.

Then Nolan looked up at me and said, “I got my haircut so now it’s time for ice cream, right?” I started to laugh in that moment — it all became so clear. His simple interpretation of what had happened was all that I needed. He was proud he had followed his schedule, and he wasn’t worried about the incident in the hair salon. The purity in the way he goes through life was once again eye-opening for me.

He often isn’t able to analyze situations or to read people’s feelings, and I was so grateful for that innocence in that moment. “Yes,” I told him, “let’s get ice cream because you got your haircut.” Nolan and his brothers and I completed the afternoon laughing and having ice cream together. It turned out to be a fun outing for us all.

In the end, I didn’t even get his horrible haircut fixed. I saw his uneven hairline as a reminder that things aren’t always smooth, and that was OK. I would rather have a crooked, uneven but happy, resilient child than a manageable “perfect” one the hairstylist was looking for that day.

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12 Things I've Learned About Being a Special Needs Parent (So Far)

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As we all know, parenthood can be a daily challenge. When you’re pregnant, your hope is that your baby will be healthy and delivery will be without any complications. I never really gave much thought to what it would be like to have a child with special needs or what it meant to be a parent to a child with special needs.

Fast forward to year 12 with our son who has autism. This is what I’ve learned (so far):

1. I’ve learned to be my child’s advocate. I can stand up in a room and fight for what’s best for my son. There’s no time for stage fright.

2. I’ve learned to be an expert in acronyms like IEP and OT. If you don’t know what these mean, you might not be a SNP.

3. I’ve learned that doctors don’t always know what’s best for my son, and it’s OK to let them know that.

4. I’ve learned the school system may only give you the least amount of info needed when it comes to our son, and that getting the services he deserves and needs doesn’t just happen.

5. I’ve learned about real friendships through the tough times.

6. I’ve learned how to celebrate the simple things.

7. I’ve learned the cycle of victory and defeat can feel unending at times.

8. I’ve learned I’m now an educator. I educate others about my child’s strengths, potential and abilities.

9. I’ve learned milestones are different with a child with special needs, and they should all be celebrated! I’ve also learned how to see my “typical” children’s achievements and realize what is truly important.

10. I’ve learned how many other parents are in my community, and they are the strongest, most courageous and kindest parents you might ever meet.

11. I’ve learned to have perspective. Daily.

12. I’ve learned I’m going to keep on learning every day, and much of my learning will be from our child with special needs. He teaches me and those lucky enough to be around him daily.

Follow this journey on Know Different.

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For Years, He Was Underestimated. Now, This Teen With Autism Has His Own Film.

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Keaton Bicknell was diagnosed with severe autism at age 2. From that point on, many people underestimated him. But as of July 2015, he’s accomplished something that would be incredible for any 18-year-old: he wrote, edited, directed and composed the music for a newly released short film, “The Adventures of Pelican Pete: A Bird Is Born.”

Based on the book series of the same name, “Pelican Pete” is a combination of live action and animated scenes. Through Pelican Pete, a young pelican who wears a signature baseball cap, and his parents, the film teaches viewers about how pelicans build nests and raise their young.

“I thought [the ‘Pelican Pete’ story] would make an interesting short film for children on the strength of its ecological messages — much like ‘Ferngully: The Last Rainforest‘ or ‘WALL-E,’” Bicknell, who lives in Saint Augustine, Florida, told The Mighty in an email.

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Photo courtesy of Keaton Bicknell

Bicknell started working on the screenplay for “Pelican Pete” seven years ago when he was just 11 years old. Filming for the project commenced in January 2009. However, the animation studio he’d previously made arrangements with was unavailable. Unsure of what to do, Bicknell put his project on indefinite hiatus.

That’s where Dani Bowman, an animator from Los Angeles who also has autism, came in. Bowman, now 20, founded her own animation studio, Power Light-Studios, when she was just 11 years old. She now teaches animation at the Center for Autism and Dyslexia in Findlay, Ohio.

Bicknell reached out to Bowman in August 2014 to see if she’d help him finish the project. She readily agreed, and less than one year later, “Pelican Pete” made its debut at the San Diego Comic-Con Children’s Film Festival on July 12, 2015.

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Photo of Dani Bowman and Keaton Bicknell courtesy of Keaton Bicknell.
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Dani Bowman at the film’s premier at the Children’s Film Festival at San Diego Comic-Con International. Photo via the Pelican Pete: The Movie Facebook page

Bicknell told The Mighty that the film will be released on a broader scale in the fall of 2015, including a screening at the World Arts Film Festival in Jacksonville, Florida, in October. In the meantime, he hasn’t decided whether he’d like to continue creating “Pelican Pete” films or take his filmmaking in a different direction. Either way, there are numerous projects in his future.

“I’ve got lots of film projects racing through my brain,” Bicknell told The Mighty. “It’s not even funny.”

Take a look at some of the animations from the film below.

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Photo courtesy of Keaton Bicknell
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From the Pelican Pete: The Movie Facebook page
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From the Pelican Pete: The Movie Facebook page

Watch the trailer for “The Adventures of Pelican Pete: A Bird Is Born” below.

h/t Autism Daily Newscast

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