“Do you want to try and get that old vending machine in the copy center running?” Alex’s 7th grade teacher asked.” It might be a good way for him to practice coin counting.”
Why not, I thought. There’s nothing to lose. We spent the next month getting the machine working, then designed a program that would let Alex run the machine as independently as possible. It looked like a nice little job for him to have at school, something to break up the day.
Six weeks later I’m watching my low verbal, Autistic son do every part of this job himself, building relationships with the office staff, teachers and students but most importantly beaming with pride. If you walked past Alex when he was stocking the machine he looked capable, engaged and completely independent. I realized we’d stumbled onto something huge. This job was building a community outside the classroom and, more importantly, helping Alex realize his potential.
People got to know the Alex who runs the vending machine,not Alex the Autistic kid in the special needs class. This was the moment where everything I believed about Autism shifted. I stopped seeing Autism as a list of problems that needed fixing. Alex was smart, independent AND Autistic. I needed to learn how to include the Autism, not fight it.
We spent the next six years running a DIY vocational jobs program for Alex. He volunteered at the Lan Su Chinese Garden, the Portland Police Bureau and the Northwest Emergency Food Program. Getting out of the classroom and into jobs was the best decision we ever made.
Two years ago we noticed an empty vending machine at Stark’s Vacuum in Montavilla. “Would you guys be interested in having us put one of our machines in your location?”I asked. That was the moment we became a for-profit, Autistic-run business. Today we have machines in seven local businesses and a pilot program in two schools to help teach the next generation of Autistic kids real life job skills.
WHAT’S THE GOAL?
Twenty machines by 2016, another Autistic employee, and new partners. Are you interested in hosting a machine, helping us grow our business model or investing in our vision? We hope so, because we’re ready to get to work!
Who We Are headline Here
Some text about who works with Alex / Who runs PIE.
Text about Jen goes here.
Text about Lane goes here.