Sunday, April 14, 2013

Autism Awareness Month

In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, I would like to briefly describe my healing journey in the autism community in the past 6 weeks.  This experience has been enormously liberating and transformative in a very short time. 

My journey began with attending the Autism Speaks Walk in West Palm Beach, Florida, in early March.  On this day I discovered that I had found a humane and compassionate community that understood and accepted me for who I was.  I met with members of Autism Speaks and vendors who were moved and touched by my story.  I enjoyed being in an emotionally safe environment where I could be my authentic self and where I was not punished for my social deficit.  I found a group of people who validated me and treated me with a respect that I rarely received in mainstream society.  I found a place where I belonged. 

This experience allowed me to begin healing from the trauma of repeated rejection in mainstream society.  The feeling of acceptance gave me strength and hope for my future and a feeling that my contribution to the world was meaningful and significant.  I began to realize that my authentic self was valued and appreciated.

Following this event, I had a highly productive meeting with a local disability organization in South Florida.  At this meeting, I received additional encouragement for my work along with practical suggestions for writing my book on self-employment and work from home options for autistic people.  This meeting helped me to begin rebuilding my shattered self-confidence and reinforced my feeling that I belonged in the disability community.

In late March, I gave a presentation on my painful experiences in the workplace to a group of masters students in vocational rehabilitation.  I suffered numerous PTSD attacks prior to this presentation because I was forced to relive my traumatic ordeals and and a long history of rejection in the workplace.  But I found a humane, accepting, and compassionate response to my story from the professor and her students.  And this presentation allowed me to continue on my healing journey from my painful trauma and to begin moving forward toward a brighter and higher destiny.

I want to thank Autism Speaks and the broader autism community for accepting, embracing, nourishing, and supporting me.  I have found a compassionate and humane environment which is promoting my healing process and allowing me to regain my inner emotional strength and self-confidence.  The acceptance of others has made it easier to accept myself and to open my heart to the possibility of positive interaction and reconnection with society. 

Clothes with a Conscience

I was thinking about how an autistic artist might break through the obstacles to gaining a contract with a major department store.  And I thought maybe an autistic person would have a competitive advantage when it came to producing sensory sensitive clothing.  Why? Because autistic people are highly sensitive to certain types of clothing materials.  For example, I know that I find many standard clothing materials such as linen to be intolerably itchy and uncomfortable.  For this reason, I am unable to wear many beautiful and attractive clothes.

An autistic person can compete effectively in this niche market because we are the customers for this type of product.  I began investigating the sensory sensitive clothing industry.  And I discovered that actually such products are already being developed and sold.  Thus, my instincts about the presence of a viable market for this product were proven correct.

In addition, I was very heartened to learn that several companies in this industry operate according to a strong sense of social conscience.  In particular, I would like to draw public attention to the work of Soft Clothing.

This company was founded by Suzy Kogen Friedman and Jessica Ralli.  Ms. Friedman is mother, entrepreneur, and aunt of an autistic child.  Ms. Ralli is a special education teacher with a masters from Columbia University.   

This company stands out for its socially conscious business practices in addition to its wide variety of high quality products.  The father of an autistic child who is also a garment industry executive helped Soft Clothing to find a way to produce their clothing in a compassionate and humane environment.  This man helped Soft Clothing to locate a factory in India which has agreed to operate according to humane conditions.  In addition, the company is also certified for its environmental commitment. 

Thus, Soft Clothing demonstrates that when people from all walks of life work together, we can make a difference for autistic people.  This garment industry executive is just one of many dedicated parents of autistic children who are using their corporate expertise to make the world a better place for autistic people.  Soft Clothing functions with a social conscience and a vision of a humane world for not only its autistic customers but also the workers it employs.

Australian parents of autistic children should note that Soft Clothing distributes its clothes in Australia through Seams Away.  The website is located at  Thus, Soft Clothing is now available in Australia.

Similarly, Sensory Smart was formed in the UK by Mel Thomsett, mother of an autistic son named Archie.   Ms. Thomsett saw that her son was unable to tolerate the uncomfortable standard clothing that most children can wear.  She chose to take action to benefit her son and the autistic community as a whole by founding a company that distributes sensory sensitive clothing in the UK and Europe.

Ms. Thomsett distributes clothes from many different companies, including Teres Kids.  Like Soft Clothing, Teres Kids is also operating with a social conscience.  The company produces 100% organic cotton clothing in a family-owned mill from South Carolina.  In this way, Teres Kids keeps jobs in the U.S. while also providing a  service to the autism community.  The company was co-founded by two female artists, Alexandra Merlino and Marianne Broughton, following the births of their daughters Helena and Tuesday, respectively.
Soft Clothing, Sensory Smart, and Teres Kids demonstrate that parents and teachers of autistic children are acting to provide an essential product to these kids: comfortable clothing.   They are also running their businesses according to a socially conscious model.  And they show that successful entrepreneurs can combine conscience and profit to make the world a better place.