Autism Cooks: More Than Cookies

When I walked into Autism Cooks Thursday night, the first person I spoke with was Joy Moore from the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. Any time I speak with someone from CARD, and any time I go to an autism-related event at all, my mind flashes back to me, sitting in an observation room, watching my 13-month-old be assessed for signs of autism. I picture the staff person pointing to an object on the wall, trying loudly and animatedly to get his attention as he just looks at her, utterly nonresponsive to her efforts. (Responsiveness to cues is one indicator researchers look for in children who can’t speak yet to assess their receptive language skills.)

There would be other moments just like that over the year when he participated in the First Words project. More videotaped assessments (I’m sure the video still exists somewhere!), a therapeutic playgroup, months when my mind was preoccupied by the “what ifs” regarding whether or not my son was on the autism spectrum.

By his second birthday, the conclusion was that he was not on the spectrum, and that developmentally he was age-appropriate and a “slow talker” (which is hilarious in the light of his verbosity now). He stayed involved in CARD through his fifth birthday, participating in annual assessments for a longitudinal study they were conducting. I am sure that helped them research-wise but it also helped me as a parent have a sense of how he was doing developmentally.

All of that – the research, the early exposure for me as a parent to the signs of autism, the compassion and professionalism shown to me by the staff members at CARD – contributed to the fact that I am a passionate supporter of autism-related causes. I know that a growing issue, as autism becomes more prevalent, is how adults with autism will have a way to make a living, to have shelter and food, and to be supported by their communities.

That is why the Autism Cooks event Thursday night, and the potential for Autism Cooks to become a full-time location where people can come together with friends who have autism as well as friends who don’t and feel at ease while learning life skills, captured my heart and my imagination. There’s no reason our community can’t be a place where that happens.

At Autism Cooks, Kevin Graham and Kiersten Lee, of Paisley Cafe, along with Chef Arturo, demonstrated how to bake sugar cookies, distributed delicious fresh cookies and milk, and sent everyone home with take-home bags! In addition, the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities was present to distribute information, promote its upcoming 5K, and accept voluntary donations.

Here are some pictures of the event:

Autism Cooking Project

Kiersten explains the baking process.

Autism Cooking Project

A rapt audience watches Kevin, Chef Arturo, and Kiersten prepare the dough.

Autism Cooking Project

The finished product!

I’m most excited to hand everyone their cookies. I know they will like them. – Kevin Graham

Autism Cooking Project

Kiersten reads the Autism Cooks brochure – the first time Kevin has seen it!

He came into my life at just the right moment. I could tell he needed some Kiki, but what he didn’t know is that I needed a friend like him more. He’s the best present Paisley’s given me. – Kiersten Lee

Autism Cooking Project

Who needs Gordon Ramsay (no offense, Gordon); I’ve met Kevin Graham!

A few comments from the Autism Cooks Brochure:

Autism cooks is an original Tallahassee project spearheaded by restauranteur and entrepreneur Kiersten Lee and her forever friend, Kevin Graham.

The pair met the way Kiersten meets a lot of people — at Paisley Cafe over a bowl of grits. Kevin, a Lively Tech. culinary student, was an employee of then neighbor Lucy & Leo’s Cupcakery. He’d spend the early morning hours before his shift quietly hanging out at Paisley.

“You should have seen his smile when I handed him that bowl of grits,” laughed Kiersten. “He looked up at me and said, ‘Thank you, Kiki.’ He had known my name all along.”

The future of Autism Cooks is an evolving concept. The dream (to reiterate from above): A full-time location where people with autism can come together with friends like Kevin and Kiersten and feel at ease while learning life skills.

For more information:

About Paisley Cafe: Website, Facebook, Twitter

About the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD): Website

About CARD’s April 9 Superhero 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run (hint please sign up!!!!!): Details

Autism Cooking Project


Running Half a Marathon With a Whole Heart

Running Half a Marathon With a Whole Heart
World Autism Awareness Day April 2, 2012

For the past three years, one of my goals has been to complete a 5K run (3.1 miles) in less than 30 minutes. I have written about that over and over.

Therefore, it may come as a surprise to you that this post is all about running 13.1 miles, and I don’t have my heart set on a specific finish time.

I will be running the 2012 Allstate Life Insurance Boston 13.1 Marathon® on Sunday, September 16, 2012, as part of the Autism Speaks team. When I told my husband that I wanted to do this, he asked, “why run 13.1 miles in Boston when you could do it here in Tallahassee?” It has to be Boston, it has to be September 16, 2012, and it has to be with Autism Speaks because someone I have never met asked me to.

Perhaps these statements …. running 13.1 miles in “whatever time I can do” when my main goal is 3.1 miles in 29:59 or less; traveling to Boston to run because someone I have never met and never verbally spoken to asked me to; running as part of the Autism Speaks team when my child does not have autism …. don’t make much sense.

Here are some of the reasons I said, “this has to happen” when I read Luau’s blog on February 14:

1) Beyond the fact that I had seen some made for tv movies about children with autism and done a little reading, my life had not been directly touched by autism until the day my almost-one-year-old failed most of the indicators for “typical development” on an assessment given by the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. No eye contact, no words, no pointing, nothing. Even though Wayne was not diagnosed with any condition on the autism spectrum, I have felt one teeny tiny scintilla of what I hear from my friends and acquaintances who have children with autism. That scintilla is wedged deep within my psyche and even though I have no right to say “I can relate,” …….. I can’t walk away.

2) I have worked for Florida’s State Child Health Insurance Program for 17 years. Our program does not cover autism. Even though I know it’s “just my job” to explain this to families whose child needs far more than the “24 therapy visits in a 60 day period when significant improvement is expected to result,” that are covered, it still breaks my heart to be on the other end of the phone line when they say, “But how will he/she get the intensive, year-round therapy he/she needs?”

3) Because several times a week, I read Diary of a Mom, and am given the gift of Jess’s wisdom, raw candor, and selflessness in sharing her journey (and Luau’s) journey through parenting a “neurotypical” child and a child on the autism spectrum. The only way I know how to pay her back is to try to do something to help her child and other children and adults with autism.

Therefore, I signed on to the Autism Speaks Team knowing that my end of the deal is to raise $500 for Autism Speaks. The good news is I have raised $130.

More good news is that if I accumulate the most or second-to-most comments of everyone participating in this promotion that is hosted by Amanda at Parenting by Dummies, Paula Foster from Moments in Frames will donate a dollar per comment up to $250. Just for your comments!! (This lasts through May 6.)

(ps – if you just want to donate, of course that’s fine too! Click here to be taken to my personal donation link.) [link no longer active – pk]

Running Half a Marathon With a Whole Heart
I am participating in a blogging promotion sponsored by Moments in Frames to help raise money for Autism Speaks. Please help us reach our goal by leaving a comment. Each comment you leave me could earn $1 (up to $250) for Autism Speaks.
Editor’s Notes 7/17/15:
1) I have re-released this blog via an app which reposts older items I have written. The Moments in Frames promotion is over.
2) It is critical to understand that Diary of a Mom’s position on Autism Speaks has changed since April of 2012. Please read the post why I #BoycottAutimSpeaks for her explanation.