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Autism support services

By 6 July 2024July 15th, 2024No Comments

A community collaboration helping Autistic adults thrive

Aspect Adult Community Services

Local Hawthorn café, Sonny Ray is part of a life-changing new program for Autistic adults, helping them to gain important workplace and life skills. The contribution the program makes to improved self-esteem and overall wellbeing is significant considering approximately 70% of Autistic adults experience mental health challenges.

The How to Hospo program, which started last year, is run by Aspect’s Adult Community Services (ACS) centre in Hawthorn, in conjunction with Hawthorn café, Sonny Ray and Coffee Roasters, Single O. The program supports Autistic adults to develop hospitality skills including barista skills, customer service, hygiene practice, along with education around workplace health and safety.

Local participant, Matthew Hallinan from Bayside was diagnosed from a young age and has been part of the program from the outset.

‘It’s been a dream of mine to work in a restaurant or a café since I can remember. I was very excited when Aspect created the How to Hospo program. What I’m doing in the café allows me to interact with staff and customers, which I really enjoy and look forward to. The owners, Norm and Suzy are so supportive and have brought me into the café kitchen to learn from the chefs, which is a dream come true,’ said Matthew.

In addition to workplace skills, the How to Hospo program provides Autistic adults with daily life skills in community engagement and social interactions, as well as helping to build independence.

Autistic adults participate in weekly barista training at the Aspect ACS centre and visit Sonny Ray café for additional training and use of their facilities each fortnight. Co-owners of Sonny Ray café, Norm and Suzy Zeidan, encourage local communities to come together to support the work being done by centres such as ACS Hawthorn.

‘We feel privileged to be part of an initiative that is making a real difference in the lives of Autistic adults,’ said Suzy Zeidan. ‘There is immense power when professional support services join forces with the community as it allows Autistic adults to put into practice skills they are developing and to feel a greater sense of purpose.

‘We love having Matthew join us each fortnight and have seen the growth in his confidence and social skills, and on the flip side, Matthew has brought joy into our café, among staff and customers. And he makes a pretty good flat white,’ added Zeidan.

Coffee Roaster, Single O has also got behind the How to Hospo program by donating a coffee machine and milk frother to ACS Hawthorn, along with a regular supply of coffee beans for the participants.

Regional Coordinator of Aspect ACS, Christine Edwards, said the Hawthorn community is generous and immensely supportive of the participants and programs being implemented.

‘We know our programs are essential in the lives of many Autistic adults, and when we couple this with community engagement, the impact on our participants is transformative. We are grateful to our community partners, in particular Sonny Ray and Single O, who help us provide a holistic experience for Autistic adults, highlighting their individual interests and purpose,’ said Edwards.

The How to Hospo program is one of many community activities coordinated by Aspect. Each program is tailored to the participant’s strengths and interests to build capacity and support Autistic adults to reach their goals.

About Aspect

Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) is Australia’s largest autism-specific service provider, including autism-specific schools programs. A not-for-profit organisation, we work in partnership with people of all ages on the autism spectrum and their families to deliver distinct services, practices and research that recognise and celebrate the strengths and interests of people on the autism spectrum.

Credit top image: Cyan Dip

Autistic adults benefit from community gardening at South Surrey Park

A group of local volunteers from South Surrey Park in East Melbourne are fostering a love of gardening in autistic adults, who are not only growing a green thumb, but benefiting from social interaction across generations.

Each month for the past five years, autistic adults from Aspect’s Adult Community Services (ACS) centre in Hawthorn participate in the Flora & Fauna program with volunteers from Friends of South Surrey Park, who dedicate their own time to teaching planting, pruning and weeding skills along with how to identify garden species and varieties.

Ursula Povey, volunteer at Friends of South Surrey Park, said it gives her so much pleasure to work with the adults from ACS and to see them being involved in our re-vegetation program.

‘It is wonderful to be able to take part in restoring a lovely park and making it habitable for many native birds, animals, reptiles and insects. The participants know this and we share the joy of seeing things grow that they have planted. Being in nature can relieve stress, reduce anxiety and improve concentration. It is therapeutic for us all, including our neurodivergent friends.

‘As a group we visit our planting sites and participants are pleased to see how their seedlings have grown. One eucalyptus planted by a participant is now taller than he is. He was thrilled to see that,’ added Povey.

Christine Edwards, Regional Coordinator of Aspect ACS said the local community plays an important role in the lives of autistic adults who attend the Hawthorn centre.

‘We have worked with the Friends of South Surrey Park for five years and the Flora & Fauna program is an absolute highlight among our participants. Gardening is a highly sensory activity offering different colours, smells, sounds and textures, yet the environment and repetitive processes tend to have a calming effect.

‘While the adults love getting their hands dirty, they are also learning important life skills including catching a tram and bus to attend and packing a day bag of essential items, which builds confidence and self-esteem. Collaborating and communicating with the volunteers and program leads also helps build social and communication skills, and we have noticed a vast improvement since the program began. What’s more, our adult participants love that they are contributing to an important cause in keeping our parks clean, safe and healthy,’ added Ms Edwards.

‘Our participants have loved celebrating and learning about and indigenous perspectives and their leadership on the environment, plants, animals, insects, seeds and natural resources. We are practicing bush regeneration and helping to preserve native plants and restore patches of land to its original state, under the expert guidance of our volunteers,’ said Ms Edwards.

The ‘Flora & Fauna’ program is one of many community activities coordinated by Aspect. Each program is specifically tailored to the participant’s strengths and interests in order to build capacity and support autistic adults to reach their goals.

About Aspect

Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) is Australia’s largest autism-specific service provider, with one of the world’s biggest autism-specific schools programs. A not-for-profit organisation, we work in partnership with people of all ages on the autism spectrum and their families to deliver distinct services, practices and research that recognise a different brilliant® – understanding, engaging and celebrating the strengths and interests of people on the autism spectrum.