This UPS Man Makes Very Special Deliveries

ups3Do you know that giddy feeling that you get when the UPS man drops a package off at your door? Even if you know exactly what’s in it, it can still feel like your birthday. So you’ll understand why 14-year-old Asher Schnitzer loves the excitement of a UPS delivery.

For eight years now, Asher, who has autism, has been on a first-name basis with Mike, the UPS man in his Phoenix neighborhood. And for just as long, he’s been calling Mike every morning to check on his deliveries.

“He asks how many packages there are, what’s in it and stuff and I just tell him you know I have one package and he’ll have to find out what’s in it,” Mike told Fox 10 Phoenix.

If he has a package for Asher, Mike tries to stay a little longer than his typical drop. Asher’s mom Raquel offers for Mike to come in and have some food. If there are no UPS packages for the Schnitzers or their neighbors, Asher asks Mike to drive by and honk. As long as he has time, he does just that.

Because he knows it’s important to Asher, Mike tries to swing by when he can, and he says he doesn’t mind the early-morning calls, either. “I just try to put myself in his shoes and his family’s shoes and all of that and just say hey you know it’s not really that big of a deal to take a phone call or do a little bit of extra, so why not do it,” he said.

“Whether it’s getting a package or the neighbors getting a package or just seeing Mike, that’s enough of a buzz for him that it keeps him going,” said Raquel. And Mike has become like one of the family, even celebrating Hanukkah with them.

Now that’s a pretty special delivery.

Mom Petitions for Autism-Friendly Checkout Lane at Target; Shoprite Answers the Call

sensory-checkout2Every parent knows how annoying the checkout aisles in supermarket and big box stores can be when the kids are shopping with them, no matter if the kids are on the spectrum or not. After all, by the time we get to the checkout, we’re likely frazzled and just hoping that we’ve managed to remember everything we need. When we finally roll our cart to the checkout line, we know we’ve almost made it and it’s just a few minutes until we’re out the door! But there they are—the dreaded gum and candies and toys—more little unnecessary doodads that we don’t want and don’t need.

They’re not just there for us, though—they’re placed there for the kids. Even though they want our kids to be quiet and well-behaved and good-mannered, stores seem to purposefully place this stuff in the line of fire, hoping to eke a few more dollars out of us. Instead, what often happens is that we stand firm, and our kids—who are already cranky from the shopping process—just melt down.

With this in mind, Philadelphia-area mom, Kristin Jackowski, started a petition on to “encourage Target and other big box-stores to implement autism-friendly checkout lanes.” Kristin has three children, and five-year-old NavyAnna has autism, along with sensory issues. While it may not be a store’s responsibility to “parent” our children, and many people view a child having a meltdown over a toy or piece of candy as a “spoiled brat,” Kristin says that NavyAnna has “poor impulse control,” and the checkout lane causes the most trouble.

People don’t understand, viewing NavyAnna’s meltdown as a simple temper tantrum because she’s not getting her way. “The stares, comments and eye rolls of disgust I could do without, because the situation is already hard enough,” says Kristin. In her petition, Kristin recommends that stores “flip the script and turn this into a positive,” by having sensory-friendly aisles with “sensory input tools parents can actually use” instead of candy. She recommends things like bubbles, Play-doh and stress balls—things that help a child de-stress and self-soothe. She also recommends that cashiers be given some sensitivity training so that they recognize that you “can’t always see a disability.”

Kristin talked to her Target store’s managers and was told that this sort of change needs to come from the corporate office. Philly Mag contacted Target corporate on behalf of Kristin and was told that they were looking into the request.

However, the management of Kristin’s local Shoprite supermarket, which just opened up three weeks ago, heard about her petition and decided it was a fantastic idea. Paul Kourtis, the store’s director, said he didn’t understand at first, and wondered, “what’s the big deal?” So he did some investigating and determined that “one of the most helpful things he could do would be to replace the candy in the checkout with ‘sensory friendly’ items like Play-Doh, rattles, and small puzzles, one of the key changes requested in the petition.”

Paul then checked with the store’s owner, who immediately OK’ed the change. “I just merchandized the aisle correctly with sensory-friendly objects. No candy whatsoever. It was easy to do. We’re happy to do it,” Paul said. The store will also be working with all employees to educate them about autism and sensory issues.

In the meantime, one of their 18 aisles is now “sensory friendly,” and there’s a sign on it to make sure people know. How’s it working out? “People are going crazy for it,” and spreading the word.

Myrtle Beach Airport Opens Sensory-Friendly ‘Quiet Room’

Myrtle Beach Airport2Back in the beginning of 2016, the town of Surfside Beach, South Carolina, made news when it became the first “autism-friendly” travel destination in the U.S. That accomplishment was due, in very large part, to the work of the Champion Autism Network (CAN) in the Surfside Beach area.

Founded in 2012 by Becky Large, CAN is working to spread autism awareness through the community, as well as helping to implement judgment-free zones and overall acceptance.

Today, the Myrtle Beach International Airport, just north of Surfside Beach, officially cut the ribbon on its new sensory-friendly “Quiet Room.” The space is intended for people with autism and special needs who are in need of a place to decompress after their flight. The room is located just off of the baggage claim area, and features cushioned cubicles, pillows and chairs, for people to lie down or just sit and relax.

“This is a wonderful partnership and a victory for families of children with autism who are vacationing in our area,” said CAN’s Becky Large. “This room provides a safe and fun environment for children on the autism spectrum and a caregiver to relax and decompress after a flight while family members retrieve their baggage and rental car.”

In other words, families traveling on to a holiday in Surfside Beach can get their vacation off to a good start in a judgment-free zone, with potentially fewer meltdowns.

And that’s not all. Tyler Servant, the council vice chair of Horry County, which encompasses Myrtle and Surfside beaches, says that the goal is for the entire county to become autism-friendly: “Myrtle Beach area is a great destination for families and by offering these services it was our hope that Horry County would become a place where families that have children on the autism spectrum could come and visit and enjoy their vacation and their time with their families because that is what this area is all about.”

We can’t wait to see more beaches, towns, airports, and entire counties, doing the same.

J.C. Penney Holds Shopping Event to Accommodate Children With Autism

JCP1This past Sunday, the J.C. Penney store at Timber Creek Crossing in Dallas, Texas, held its first shopping event for families with autistic children. The private, two-hour, back-to-school event was developed with help from the Dallas Independent School District (DISD), which also sent notices to parents, letting them know about the special occasion.

All of the J.C. Penney employees who worked that morning went through special training, so they could best assist with the needs of shoppers with autism. Additionally, the store was operated with 50% less lighting and no music playing. Employees dressed in neutral colors and were instructed to wear no perfume.

Store general manager, Jay Tollett, volunteered his Timber Creek Crossing store to serve as the flagship store for the event. He told the Dallas News that he hopes both that the shopping event becomes an annual event, and that the program gets expanded to more J.C. Penney stores around the country.

Inclusion and diversity has long been one of Penney’s core principles, and the department store chain was recognized in 2014 for representing diversity in the models for its “When It Fits You Feel It” campaign. The company has stated previously that part of its belief in “valuing diversity means the inclusion of all our associates’ and customers’ differences as part of our overall business strategy.” J.C. Penney management is looking into the possibility of developing this special shopping event further, as a permanent part of its corporate inclusion and diversity program.

The program is similar to one we reported about a “Quiet Hour” at ASDA Living in the U.K. a few months ago. We’re thrilled to see these initiatives spread.

Purse Designed by Student With Autism Becomes International Sensation

Dinosaur Purse1 copyEven if you don’t care about the world of fashion or keep a scorecard on the various diplomats who visit the White House, chances are you’ll still be interested in this story. This past week, when the Prime Minister of Singapore visited President Obama, his wife Lee Ho Ching was photographed carrying a simple and fun dinosaur clutch bag designed not by a famous designer, but by a 20-year-old man with autism.

It turns out that Mrs. Lee is an advisor to the Pathlight School, the first autism-focused school in Singapore. The school has an Artist Development Programme (ADP) and the items designed by ADP students are featured at its Art Faculty, to “promote the special talents of people with autism and related challenges.” Mrs. Lee brought three purses designed by ADP students to the U.S. for her visit, deciding at the last minute to use the blue dinosaur bag designed by Sheng Jie.

While Sheng Jie’s parents were amazed that their son’s design made it into the international spotlight, his father said that his son doesn’t realize the impact that his design made. He explained: “He is just happy when we tell him someone likes what he’s made.”

Sheng Jie makes dinosaur designs right from his head, without relying on any pictures or photos. His parents said he became obsessed with dinosaurs after watching the Disney movie “Dinosaur” when he was just 3 years old. It was the first movie he’d ever sat still for, and he was soon sculpting clay dinosaurs. He went on to create his own dinosaur encyclopedia, featuring his artwork as well as descriptions of each dinosaur. Although Sheng Jie doesn’t talk much, he loves to name all of the dinosaurs from A to Z.

Dinosaur Purse2 copy

In 2011, after teachers noticed his artistic abilities, Sheng Jie became one of the first students in Pathlight’s Artist Development Programme. Professional artists work with the ADP students to help them develop their talent. When possible, the work of the students is turned into merchandise to benefit both the program and the students, who earn royalties on every sale. Sheng Jie’s dinosaur drawings are featured on pouches such as the one that Mrs. Lee carried, as well as notebooks and notecards. The specific pouch showcased by Mrs. Lee sold out within 24 hours.

Linda Kho, Pathlight’s principal, told the BBC, “We were pleasantly surprised and honoured that she chose to bring this bag on her official visit. It gave such a great mileage for the artist on our Artist Development Programme (ADP).”

Mrs. Lee also gifted Mrs. Obama a set of mugs and cups featuring the artwork of another ADP student. We know it’s unlikely, but we think it would be great if they became a permanent White House installation!

Recipe for Success: Young Chef With Autism Gets His Dream Job

Autistic Chef1

Photo: Kate Geraghty

Every story about somebody successfully pursuing their dream is a story worth telling. When that person has to overcome more than the usual roadblocks to pursue that dream, their success becomes even more heartwarming. Such is the case with Jack Studholme, a 20 year-old living in Australia.

Jack, who has autism, just landed his dream job as an apprentice chef at Catalina, a very popular restaurant in Sydney. While he always liked to help out his mom in the kitchen, it was the completion of a hospitality certification at a TAFE institution (in Australia, TAFE institutions provide “technical and further education”) that opened the door to his future.

Social media also played a part—Michael McMahon, the owner of Catalina, first saw Jack’s photo on Facebook. Jack was dressed in his chef whites, receiving an award from the Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s (CPA) Transition to Work program, which assists people with various special needs. Next to Jack’s photo was the hashtag #hireme, and the social media plea worked.

Samantha Lawler, Jack’s mom, said that the Facebook photo had many wonderful responses, including McMahon’s. Jack interviewed with the restaurant management and then had a two-day trial, to see whether it was the right environment. It wasn’t easy for Jack at first—he had to overcome sensitivities to heat and noise, as well as the usual pressures of learning new skills and working in a busy restaurant’s kitchen. But he had help from the CPA, and his co-workers.

“We have around 34 kitchen staff here…and they have all taken him under their wing. Everyone loves caring for him and they respect him, which makes me really happy,” explained restaurateur McMahon.

Jack works three days a week at Catalina, under the supervision of the head pastry chef. He has various tasks, including making the daily bread from start to finish, washing salads, and plating. Jack is happy, as his mother explained: “Working at Catalina has definitely changed Jack’s life and has given him real belief in his abilities.”

Apple Store Field Trips: Apples, Smiles, and Superman

Apple Store Visit

As an Apple Distinguished Educator and the head of Instructional Technology at Wildwood School in New York State—a comprehensive educational program for students with autism spectrum disorders, neurological impairments, and complex learning disabilities—I am thrilled with the opportunity to set up multiple trips to our local Apple store. I work closely with our educators and the store’s educational team to provide a fun and meaningful learning experience for our students with autism and developmental disabilities.

Recently, some students from every level, along with some of the adults in our Day Hab program, went to the Apple store at Crossgates Mall in Albany. We had already decided on the general topic, and students would be creating digital memory books using iPads and the app Comic Life 3. During past field trips, we used iMovie, Keynote, and several other creation tools.  To prepare for this specific trip, I had asked the staff to familiarize themselves with Comic Life 3 and have the students do some pre-planning so they could focus on the experience when they were in the Apple store.

The beauty of these trips is that all students have the opportunity to share their voice. With the support of the educational store team and our staff, students become creators, authors, communicators, and collaborators. No matter the device, students can create and share their voice by whatever means works for them. Whether they use built-in accessibility features to communicate in pictures, voice, text, or a combination of two or three, every single person creates a product that represents who they are and the memories that are meaningful to them. Every single individual has a voice and has the opportunity to share that with others.

These trips are about far more than simply creating—they’re more about the process than the product. They allow students to work on important and essential skills, and the Apple store educators understand and embrace this. For some students, it’s about walking and navigating a mall/store safely. For others, it’s about seeking out a staff person and asking for help. Some students practice waiting skills, and others practice collaboration and cooperation skills. There are endless opportunities for skills practice and generalization.

With the support of everyone involved, and a fun and engaging project as the foundation, every student finds success, shares their voice, and leaves with a smile. Thanks to the Apple store, they also leave with a t-shirt and a USB bracelet with their project on it (or something similar), so they can share it with their families, their peers, and school staff. I have witnessed students hurry back into the school after a field trip, and immediately ask to share their work with others. The ability to see their products on the large screen is amazing, but pales in comparison to the look of pride on their faces. Then to see their educational team extend these lessons, sometimes through the entire year, is really something special.

For some pictures, samples, and smiles from this specific trip, please see the pinned post on my Educational Technology for All Learners Page. I would love if you join in this community with me and share your related stories and experiences as well.

I encourage you to reach out to your local Apple Store and learn more about what they offer for field trips and other group trips. The focus is on the individual; ensuring they have a memorable and meaningful learning experience. The impact the Apple store staff has on their community is great and often goes unnoticed. They are more than a retail store: They are educators and advocates with a passion to create positive change in the lives of those around them. One of the educational creative team members at Apple Crossgates recently reminded me of a memory she cherishes from our first trip to the store years ago. “The first year you brought students to the store when I was here, there was a young man who wrote an alphabet book in Keynote,” she shared. “At the end he said, ‘I wrote a book! I’m like Superman!’ It inspires me regularly and reminds me of how important your work is and Wildwood’s work is, as well as the small contributions we can make from this store.”

Let’s give all of our students and children the opportunity to share their voice with the world, in whatever way possible. Let’s keep creating, collaborating, communicating … and proudly smiling.

In the words of Steve Jobs: “What is Apple, after all? Apple is about people who think ‘outside the box,’ people who want to use computers to help them change the world, to help them create things that make a difference, and not just to get a job done.”

U.S. Army to Open First Autism Therapy Center

Army Dad and KidAccording to many military parents, the U.S. Department of Defense isn’t the most progressive employer. Some parents of military dependents with autism—said to number 23,000—have been trying to find services for those dependents for years.

Others have found amazing services for their children, only to lose them when they’ve gotten reassigned to another base and country. Parents have even had their children waitlisted for multiple schools and centers, as they get on a list, get transferred, put their child’s name on another wait list, and get transferred again. In the meantime, their child is missing out on vital therapies and interventions.

In a move to help alleviate this problem, the Army has announced plans to open its first therapy center for children with autism. The JBLM Cares Center will be part of the Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington, and is expected to start providing care in early 2017. The Center will be overseen by Lt. Col Eric Flake, a doctor and the director of Madigan Army Medical Center’s developmental and behavioral pediatric program.

Lt. Col. Flake explained that the center will have programs to help parents whose child has just received an autism diagnosis, as well as “group after-school therapy opportunities.” Furthermore, he said, “During the work day this will also be a therapy center where kids will get direct speech therapy, will get direct occupational therapy.”

Gretchen Shea, a regional administrator for American Military Families Autism Support—an online group for parents—says that many families have mixed feelings about the announcement. But while it may be, in her words, a “drop in the bucket,” we’re big believers that small steps in the right direction are better than no steps at all. Sometimes small movement is all you need for something to gain momentum, and we hope the Department of Defense considers the need and opens more autism therapy centers where possible.