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.

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

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The finished product!

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

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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