This Cafe Is So Successful, It’s Expanding To Provide More Jobs for Those on the Spectrum

Artistas Cafe trains and employs people on the spectrum and they plan to expand their program to include more training and job experiences in the community.

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This Cafe Is So Successful, It’s Expanding To Provide More Jobs for Those on the Spectrum.

Artistas Cafe has trained and employed those on the spectrum in Tampa Bay, Fl, since 2011.

Trainees work on developing their skills, abilities and self-confidence.

Some trainees go on to work at Artistas Cafe, receiving competitive compensation.

Other trainees are able to secure employment within other community businesses.

Due to its success, the cafe is expanding to create the Artistas Development Center.

This expansion will create more training and jobs for those on the spectrum,

And teach integration skills to local employers.

The Development Center will include a training academy, wellness center and retail program.

The retail program will provide job variety with a restaurant, gift store, art gallery and fulfilment center.

To learn more, visit


Thank You 'Sesame Street' for a New Character on the Autism Spectrum

My son, Leo, has been drawn to “Sesame Street” and its cast of characters from an early age.

Before autism trickled into our existence through his diagnosis.

Before the influx of new therapies.

Before the beginning school.

The show seems to be a comfort through the ups and downs of learning how to navigate his way through a world that isn’t always understanding, not only of the challenges he faces, but his extraordinary gifts as well.

Through it all, “Sesame Street” has been there, gently cradling my boy through each step of this journey. The show seems to serve a purpose expanding far beyond the realm of simple entertainment. It is the anchor that to me secures so much of what Leo holds dear — a constant source of joy and comfort he can turn to on days that aren’t so sunny. A beautiful place that gives Leo and perhaps many other children the opportunity to see the world as it should be: a haven of kindness, inclusion, and love.

Big Bird, Zoe, Cookie Monster, Elmo and the rest, are now firmly embedded into our family.

And with the addition of its newest resident, Julia, the show’s first main character with autism, I am hopeful “Sesame Street” will continue to broaden its scope of who they are able to reach, and the lives they can touch through this powerful medium.

Thank you PBS and “Sesame Street” for continuing to promote diversity and inclusiveness — and for showing Leo that he, too, is worthy of being represented, respected, cherished and loved.

Follow this journey at My Life With Leo

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Rising From the Ashes: My Journey With Autism and HSAM

From the time I was born I’ve always felt autistic and I can remember every day of my life. As a toddler I enjoy organizing the cutlery drawer, reading the street directory and doing jigsaw puzzles. I did that so often I hardly ever played with my more “age appropriate” toys. Cuddling and showing any other form of affection has always been unnatural to me. Whenever someone tried to hug me, I screamed in fright. The same thing happened if I was given a plastic cup which was an unexpected color.

Mum strongly felt I had autism, so at the age of 6 she took me along to get assessed by a psychologist. Despite having virtually all of the classic characteristics, we were told I couldn’t be autistic due to the fact I had a separation anxiety disorder with my mum. They also said my unusual characteristics were a result of stress from my parents’ divorce and I would outgrow them all. I continued to receive psychotherapy for childhood depression, but it was treated as a temporary aid.

I struggled with school and had no extra support in the classroom. Once, I was awake until the early hours of the morning (for three nights in a row) completing an assignment. On the third night, I finally managed to complete it and went to bed smiling because I was so happy with myself. Yet, I sobbed the next day because I was given a detention for not reaching the standard which the teachers called acceptable.

At the age of 15 (in 2005) mum insisted on getting me assessed once again for autism, and this time I came out with a diagnosis. Everyone in the room was in agreement it was unfortunate this had come so late in my childhood and especially school career. Yet, we were told it was common for females to miss a diagnosis because ASD traits can express themselves differently for us.

My early adult years were the hardest of my life. I was depressed because I had no idea who I was or where my passions lay. Due to my depression, I was unable to think about my future at all. Instead, I was intensely fixated on my past.

In early 2011 my parents called me inside the house to watch a “60 Minutes” episode about a group of people who had Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM). The people in the show were able to relive every day of their life since childhood in precise detail. I thought that kind of memory was completely “normal” and I couldn’t understand why the story was describing it as incredible.

My mum and stepdad believed I too, had HSAM and asked if it was OK to send the University of California, Irvine — who were studying the people in the segment — an email. I wasn’t expecting a response because I knew our email would be one of millions, we live all the way in Australia, and I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a “lucky” person.

Amazingly, I did receive a reply in a mere two weeks.

After a variety of thorough tests, the UCI officially diagnosed me with HSAM in May 2013. I do most talks with the McGaugh/Stark lab over Skype (in the early hours of the morning Brisbane time). Occasionally I visit them in California and get to enjoy the Universal and Disney parks. Since May of 2016 the Queensland Brain Institute/University of Queensland has been doing a study of my case simultaneously.

My involvement in research has also gotten me into a few media stories. In October of 2015 “Press Association” wrote an online article about my HSAM and autism (in addition to me being so obsessed with Harry Potter that I’m able to recite the books each night to enable me to fall asleep).

Little did I know within six hours that story went viral worldwide, and all throughout the next day media were contacting me from everywhere. “Good Morning Britain” decided to have me featured on their show, so my family and I were told to be at our local television station in just a few hours time. The story aired via a cross-studio broadcast. I was also featured on “Channel Seven News” here in Australia and “Sunrise.”

I must mention here live television is terrifying beforehand but feels great while on air and afterward (much the same as how HSAM research tests and public talks at seminars feel to me).

There have also been a fair few magazine stories I’ve been in, including “Woman’s Day,” “Take 5,” “Logan Magazine” and “Real People UK.” When it comes to newspaper articles, the list is enormous. Many newspapers from around the world picked up on the “Press Association” story, and it’s been featured in articles of — literally — every language.

Most recently I was featured in a “60 Minutes Australia” story alongside another participant in the UCI’s HSAM research study, Markie Pasternak. Part of the epsiode was filmed in my house, and the other half was filmed in the United States. This included footage of me at the University of California Irvine, and also at the new Harry Potter park at Universal Hollywood.

As a career, I blog for a company called “SpecialKids.Company.” In addition to making and selling purpose-made clothes for children with disabilities, they also provide written support for people of all ages with disabilities (including autism). I’m also doing public talks on the topics of human memory, autism and anxiety.

I can be found on Facebook under “Teens and Adults on the Autism Spectrum.” At this moment we’re an online support group where our family shares articles, posts news, and I myself do monthly webinars. We’re hoping our community will eventually grow further so we can expand our support into the offline world. Our content is 100% G-Rated. Though our main focus is to help autistic people in the age groups who get overlooked in mainstream funding.

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Woman wearing hat and backpack, walking near autumn trees in park

Finding My Way as a Soon-to-Be 20-Year-Old on the Autism Spectrum

I remember wishing time would speed up. I remember thinking that maybe as I got older, things would get a little easier. That maybe my autism would get easier. I thought that things would get better, that somehow I would outgrow my autism. I was 14 then, and I’m almost 20 now. I am older, and I was so wrong. I’ve outgrown some of my routines and meltdowns. Time has helped me “grow up” in some ways, but it’s also set me back some, too. I am a young adult learning her ways in this confusing world, but I’m also a young adult learning how to live with autism, and that in itself has its challenges for me.

I’m not a child anymore. I’m not where I use to be with meltdowns and fits about why I don’t want to go to school. But I still don’t quite feel like the 20-year-old adult my consecutive age says. I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m the young adult who can drive a car and go to the store by herself. But I’m still the girl with autism who needs her mom to take her to the dentist and can’t fully understand the concept of common sense. I’m the soon-to-be adult who doesn’t have to be home by a certain time at night because I don’t have a curfew. But I still can’t stay up past 9 because my body can’t do it and I need to stick to a routine.

I’m neither a child or adult. I feel like I’m somewhere in the middle. I remember those days when I believed I would worry less as I got older. I was wrong. I think about what is yet to come. I hope that one day I will be able to live on my own. Some days, I wish I could be 14 again. Everything seemed so much easier then because I had different struggles to work through.

But time has a way of teaching you how to hold onto what you have just a little while longer if you let it, because soon enough, I might be wishing to come back to these days, too. I’m just trying to find my way in this confusing world. I’m not a little girl, and I don’t feel like an adult. I’m somewhere in the middle, trying to understand and learn my role and what makes me happy.

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Mother holding hand of son, who is wearing a backpack, as they walk together outdoors

The Courage I See Every Day in My Son on the Autism Spectrum

I see my son with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) struggle with something new, whether it’s surprise thunderstorms, dreaded fire drills or broccoli, every day. What might seem minor to someone else can become a big deal for him. It can take courage to confront the unknown or the uncomfortable. It can take courage to power through it like a boss.

What is courage? The dictionary defines courage as “the ability to do something that frightens one” or “strength in the face of pain or grief.” My son demonstrates this character trait daily. He comes home and tells me, “Mom, we had a fire drill, and I dealt with it!” You have no idea how much courage that takes him. Fire drills used to be more challenging for him. Vegetables are another matter entirely. Texturally, they bug him and they don’t taste so great to him. But when he eats a bit of broccoli, he’s demonstrated courage. He encountered something that causes him grief, and he showed strength by overcoming it.

Courage doesn’t come easily or all the time, but it’s important to celebrate it when it happens.

Does courage mean my son can always power through? Of course not. He’s human! I find it genuinely frightening to go up to a group of people I don’t know and introduce myself. Sometimes I’m able to do it and sometimes I’m not. My point? We need to cut our children some slack when it comes to pushing them outside of their comfort zones. Push too hard, and you’ve caused a setback. Don’t push hard enough, and you maintain status quo. But you do what you and your child feel comfortable with.

Do what you can to make it easy to obtain mastery of goals. Headphones can help with noise issues. Weighted lap pads, stuffed animals or blankets can help with security issues. Don’t expect powering through to happen all the time, but rather wait and enjoy the successes. Because the successes are oh so sweet!

Follow this journey on Embracing the Spectrum.

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Thinkstock image by Nadezhda1906

The Chocolate Spectrum Just Gave Us One More Reason to Eat Chocolate

The Chocolate Spectrum is a chocolate shop as well as a place to train and hire adults on the autism spectrum.

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The Chocolate Spectrum Just Gave Us One More Reason to Eat Chocolate.

It’s run by Blake Herkskowitz, who’s on the autism spectrum, and his mom Valerie.

Founded in 2013, the company provides training and jobs for adults on the spectrum in Jupiter, FL.

More than 12 individuals with developmental disabilities are part of their program.

The shop offers three different programs for trainees.

The Chocolatier program teaches baking and chocolate making as well as health, hygiene, independence and social development skills.

The Barista course teaches coffee making and social skills for working in both cafes and restaurants.

The last course teaches high schoolers how to make chocolates, pastries as well as other job skills.

Trainees also participate in social events and classes.

To learn more, visit

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