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

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

Read the full transcript:

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 thechocolatespectrum.com.

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My Son Is on the Autism Spectrum, and He's Wonderful in Every Way

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I remember the moment my son Sam was born. I remember his sweet face. His bright eyes. I remember my mom to my left and my husband to my right. I remember what they were wearing. I remember loving the smell of the sterile soap they used at the hospital. I remember staring at him and thinking how unbelievable and amazing it was that he was mine.

Sam is almost 3 now — and I still think that. I look at him and I’m grateful every day that he is mine.

He’s funny. So funny. After his bath, when I’m drying him off, he’ll stand up on the counter, stick his butt out and smack it — then he laughs. I have no idea where he learned this (really, I don’t), but it’s hysterical.

He’s also smart. So smart. I remember when he was younger, I’m not sure exactly what age, but it was young enough that when I gave him the puzzle to play with, I was really surprised to come back a few minutes later to see all the pieces in the right spot.

He’s loving. So loving. He runs to us for hugs. Not just when we come home or pick him up from school, but just randomly because. He grabs my face, looks me in the eye, smiles and gives me a big kiss. Each and every day.

This little boy is wonderful in every way. My husband and I always ask each other, “Do you think other parents love their kids as much as we love ours?” I know, of course they do, but still, it’s hard to imagine. And it’s hard to imagine this child you love so much having anything in their life that makes it harder for them. So, when we learned that Sam has autism, my thoughts immediately went to the world around him.

Sam did not “look” like what I thought autism was. He loves hugs, he makes good eye contact, he likes other kids, he doesn’t really have many sensory issues. I already knew him, so while it was a bit of a gut punch to hear someone say those words out loud, my first worries weren’t about him or his outcome. I was worried about everyone else, how he would be treated with this stigma attached to him.

For the first few months, I was obsessed. I read all the books, read all the blogs, the comments, Googled every last detail, attended conferences, asked a million questions. After all that, I remembered learning the important lesson I did while pregnant… that the internet is just a big rabbit hole. If you want to find something to confirm your beliefs or suspicions or fears, you will and most likely the outcome will leave you with a terminal condition on WebMd at 2 a.m. So, I stopped… and immediately felt much better.

My husband was a big part of that, too. One day, he just said “Enough.” “There’s nothing wrong with Sam.” That’s what he said, and not in the denial kind of way. The obvious kind of way. We feel like the luckiest people in the world to have him. He has some delays, some quirky things about him, maybe some other stuff that will come up — and there’s nothing “wrong” with any of it. It’s what makes him him. Even through my obsession (which my husband kindly calls diligence), I never once wished Sam were different. I wanted to help him be the best he could, but not different. We never felt sorry for ourselves, there was never any big crying moment. We have a pretty healthy sense of perspective. That has made a huge difference. We decided we’ll handle things as they come and not take life so seriously.

I know it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. I know the daily struggles for many families can be hard. Some days Sam is just like every other kid, but then there are other days, when I can see that he gets a bit lost in himself. When he paces back and forth. When he won’t respond to his name. When I remember that my nearly 3-year-old child still doesn’t put words together. Those days are harder.

When I read about yet another kid who was bullied, or one that sat and waited while no one came to their birthday party. That’s not just a problem with kids; I believe that’s a problem with what their parents teach them. When I hear how kids in public schools are falling behind, inundated with homework and overwhelmed. When I learn how the basis of Common Core is that students now must be able to not just answer the question, but explain exactly how they got the answer, which can be particularly hard for children with ASD. That is all of our problem, whether your child is a typical kid or not. When I see the “free” options for kids with ASD that so many parents rely on that are failing them. When I see how much is not covered by insurance. When they tell you that early intervention is crucial, but after eight months on a wait list, we still can’t get a behavioral therapist to help us. When I visit special preschools for him that aren’t bright and fun, with hallways lined in art work. They’re basically converted homes or office spaces with used, donated toys. When the “good” school that everyone is trying to get in basically tells you you will never get off the wait list. Those are the days that I worry for him. It shouldn’t be like that. Not for him. Not for any kid. Not for something that may affect as many as one in 68 children.

Sam is going to do wonderful things. I can see it. This little boy who loves music and dancing, loves painting, loves cars and trucks, peanut butter and jelly, bubble baths, books before bed, sidewalk chalk and cartoons. This little boy who is afraid of the big tractor from the movie “Cars,” won’t eat his veggies, pouts when it’s bedtime and loves gummy bears. He’s just like any other kid in those ways.

Sam goes to preschool and has great teachers. He has an awesome speech therapist who works with him on his level. He will hopefully soon be approved for a behavioral therapist to help as well. He has grandparents nearby, and he has my niece, his best friend, across the street to be his sidekick. He has a little sister, who at only 6 months, I can already tell will be a fun and loving companion. He has parents who are able to devote a significant amount of time and attention to making up games to help him speak and focus. He has my niece and nephew, my cousin’s daughter, my friends’ children, all of whom are around his age. I believe they’ll be his first friends and forever allies. He has an army of family and friends who love him tremendously. Sam will do just fine. He will reach his full potential, whatever that is. But not all kids have access to these things, and that is heartbreakingly unfair. Not to mention those great teachers and therapists who will help him reach his full potential, who go above and beyond what they need to…their salaries, in my opinion, don’t justify the work that they do.

I thought I knew about autism…until I had a child with autism. There is so much work to be done. I will fight for those things for him — because I’m his mom, because I love him, because he deserves better. And maybe that you can now say you know a child with ASD and that you know there are awesome kids not getting what they need and not being treated how they deserve to be treated — you’ll fight for them too.

Follow this journey on Why? How? Car!

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Thinkstock image by Yue_

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Panera Bread Is Cooking Up Autism Awareness With Cookies

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Panera Bread is cooking up some autism awareness out of its Cincinnati-based locations. Starting Monday, 21 Cincinnati-based Panera locations will offer shortbread cookies featuring a blue puzzle piece to raise awareness and funds for autism-related endeavors.

According to Cincinnati.com, 100 percent of the autism cookie proceeds will be donated to the Kelly O’Leary Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The donations will help expand the center’s early intervention program and provide sensory-friendly training to staff members of local public institutions such as museums, theaters, and other places of recreation.

The awareness effort is part of “Pieces of Hope for Autism,” an advocacy event created by Covelli Enterprises in 2011, the same group which owns over 300 Panera Bread franchises. Over the past five years, Covelli Enterprises says it has donated over $300,000 to the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism through its fundraiser, Fox8 Cleveland reports.

The fundraiser starts Monday, April 3 and ends Sunday, April 9.

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On Autism, Disability and Unaccommodating People

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In an earlier post titled Autism is Not My Disability I said:

“Autism is not the disability, although symptoms of my sensory processing difficulties can leave me unable to function. The disability is society’s misunderstanding of Autistic people.”

Although I still agree with my previous statement, I’ve been rethinking this title lately and feel a strong urge to elaborate. First I want to clarify that there are parts of autism that are disabling.

We can have mental disabilities, epilepsy, IBS, anxiety attacks, chronic insomnia, extreme sensory sensitivities, and more. In my mind these things are not autism – because they differ so widely in all of us. I consider them unfortunate side effects Autistic people encounter too often.

These things are true disabilities and are often invisible – so when I say autism is not a disability, I mean autism as a way of thinking in itself is not a disability. This does not mean many Autistic people are not disabled. I wish it weren’t true, but many of us are.

Personally, I am not sure if chronic illness will eventually leave me unemployed and unemployable. It is a constant fear as I scramble to get my health under control. Doctors are apathetic and if you’ve learned to act “normal” people doubt your diagnosis every time you mention it.

There are certain things I need help with, some simple accommodations that make my life easier. In work and in my personal life I tend to ask for the following, although people sometimes accuse me of being difficult:

Sit somewhere quiet. At work I may wear headphones with music or ear plugs. Working from home is also a great option. My ears are so sensitive they pick up everything. I can’t focus on one conversation or catch all the words in a loud, busy room. I like calm restaurants or off-peak times.

Sit somewhere with gentle lighting. I need natural light without glares and certain soft artificial light. Modern office light is the worst. The wrong lighting or lots of glares makes me feel sick and hurts my eyes and brain. If I can’t escape I may put shades on or wear a hat indoors.

Ask for or make a plan. I like to know what’s happening and am honest about not enjoying surprises. I also need to know when things will end. Sometimes I may choose to stay late; if not, having an end time helps me to relax.

Say no to people. I am not a social person and can’t take a lot of going out. Socializing drains me like nothing else. Now that I work full time, I have a hard time going out more than a few times a month. I say no to people more than they are used to, but my health is important to me.

Try to get everything in writing. I have a hard time following verbal directions. Autism does impair some of my face-to-face communication skills. I also have impaired short-term memory and executive functioning. When I ask for someone to put something in writing for me, it is one of the most important accommodations I ask for. My reading level is far above what I can take in though speech. This helps ensure I don’t skip any important details.

Still people say – Special treatment. It’s not fair for you to get special treatment.

If I am lucky people oblige me, however I sometimes get a lot of push back.

I feel like these accommodations are reasonable. When I have these things, I am able to function at an optimal level. Without them I end up struggling to keep up with the basics. If you give me just a little, I can go far.

I think differently and go about things in a different way. On my own this has never been a problem. My problems only appear when other people insist upon me doing things their way, insisting I do things like everybody else.

They can’t see my disability and think I am asking for an easy way out.

They can’t understand how badly I need to do things my way and don’t see how much I struggle without accommodations. They are hard to get, especially in the workplace.

All I want is to do my best.

My autism is not my disability – unaccommodating people are.

Follow this journey on Anonymously Autistic.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock image by Archv.

 

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White House Recognition of Autism Awareness Day Draws Mixed Results

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On Sunday night, the White House lit up blue in honor of World Autism Awareness Day, April 2.

“On World Autism Awareness Day, we highlight the importance of addressing the causes and improving the treatments for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs),” President Trump said in a statement. “We also recognize the importance of identifying ASDs early in a child’s life and of understanding the obstacles faced by people living on the autism spectrum.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, Sean Spicer, the White House’s press secretary, said Trump lit the White House blue as a promise to Suzanne Wright, the late wife of his friend Bob Wright, both of whom cofounded Autism Speaks.

Following Trump’s tweet about the White House’s color change, some tweeted the President applauding him for acknowledging autism.

Others were not impressed by the White House’s tribute.

Paul Ryan received a similar reaction after he tweeted a photo of himself wearing a blue puzzle piece pin.

Criticism of both Trump and Ryan comes following their support of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which would have repealed the Affordable Care Act and limited Medicaid and services for people on the autism spectrum.

What’s your take? Let us know in the comments below.

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Watching 'Life, Animated' as a Parent to an Autistic Child

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Last night, my husband Andy and I finally got a chance to watch the widely acclaimed documentary film, “Life, Animated.”

For those who are unfamiliar with the film and best-selling book, “Life, Animated” follows the life of Owen Suskind, a young man on the autism spectrum, who, in his own words, uses his passion for Disney movies to help him make sense and find his place in the world.

I knew the essence of Owen’s story prior to viewing this documentary. He and his parents have appeared on various news programs and talk-show circuits over the past few years, sharing their remarkable journey.

Owen’s life is an inspiring tale, especially for families searching for their own key to unlocking the barriers which may exist for their child.

I had been looking forward to watching this film for quite some time now. I wanted to be inspired… to draw upon parallels between my own child, who similarly to Owen, has a deep and abiding love for Disney animated films. I wanted to feel as though if Owen could defy the odds, so can my Leo.

“Life, Animated” is an extraordinary piece of work. There were indeed moments of hope woven effortlessly throughout the film, simply by way of the Suskinds’ boundless dedication and love for one another.

Owen, the self-described protector of the sidekicks, can deliver every piece of Disney dialogue perfectly. He shows an optimistic view of the world around him.

Like Owen, Leo also experienced regression as a toddler. According to his parents, Owen was 3 when he began regressing and remained nonverbal until the age of 7, when a breakthrough occurred, thanks largely to animated films. In fact, Owen has used Disney films to help him cope with many of life’s challenges.

Watching “Life, Animated,’ I was inspired and filled with some of that hopeful optimism. But as one therapist in the film pointed out, the reality of life is not a Disney movie. And beyond the hopefulness embedded in the film, reality persists.

At the time of filming, Owen was 23, preparing to graduate school and embark on a new journey, moving away from his parents and into an assisted living apartment. While “Life, Animated” delivers an inspiring view of Owen’s incredible progression, we are also given glimpses into the challenges that still exist for him as an autistic adult and the fear and anxiety his parents feel as time continues to march on. They worry about what the future holds for their son.

Thinking about the future for your child or adult can be scary. Each day I stay consumed with the here and now. With helping Leo through his next school day, his next therapy appointment. One more skill mastered, another spoken word to add to the list… Progress clearly pieced together by the work of the past.

little boy smiling

It’s easier for me in so many ways to turn around and see how far Leo has come, rather than look forward 5, 10, 15 years and beyond. Thoughts of the future tend to bring forth uncertainty and fear…

Will Leo have the ability to communicate fully as time goes on? Will he be able to live independently? Will he be OK? Especially when I’m no longer here…

Owen deals with his own heart-wrenching epiphany during the film, and at one point, poignantly asks his mother, “Why is life so full of unfair pain and tragedy?”

“That’s just how life is Owen,” she responds. “You have joyful and happy times, but you also have times of sadness. That’s how life has always been…”

As the credits began to roll, I found myself gripping tightly onto the joy that Owen’s mother spoke of… trying with all my might to bury the fears that were bubbling over in that moment.

“Do you want to talk?” Andy gently asked.

“No,” I whispered, shaking my head, not yet wanting to face those feelings that the film had brought to the surface.

“It’s OK,” he responded. “We can talk about it tomorrow if you want.”

I nodded, while in the process of getting up to check on Leo.

The sweet sounds of his breathing filled the air as I approached. Placing my hand lightly on his little body, I swallowed back tears. I felt his chest peacefully rise and fall, rise and fall. It is impossible to be absolutely certain of what the future will hold for my boy.

But fearing it will not help him.

And what I do know is that just like life, he too will rise and fall…

He will struggle and face challenges, and he will fail.

But he will also persist and persevere.

I kissed his forehead, closed the door behind me and clutched onto the joy, the hope, and love that is ever-present in our lives…

He’s going to be OK.

Follow this journey on My Life With Leo.

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