A proud moment for 20 year old Jose Canoy…. officially opening his family’s new café in the Manila suburb of Quezon City.
“My name is Jose, and this is my café,” he says as he welcomes guests during the café’s formal opening, after a soft launch in November last year.
Jose was diagnosed with autism when he was four years old.
The café was set up by his family to create employment and increase the self-confidence of young people with the condition and other disabilities.
Named after Jose’s favorite pastime of putting jigsaw puzzles together, Puzzle café also highlights the primary symbol for autism, which is the puzzle piece.
“We’d like to think puzzles are like a very good analogy to autism, because when you actually put pieces together, it makes much more sense. so that’s what we want to instill to people, when we show certain pieces to them, that they may impart their own piece to the puzzle, so that people may understand the whole concept that is autism, and people with disabilities,” explains Jose Antonio Canoy, Jose’s brother and co-owner of Puzzle Café.
Autism refers to a spectrum of developmental disorders that typically involve problems communicating, limited social skills and sometimes intellectual difficulties or quirky, repetitious behaviors.
Definitive causes aren’t known, but it is thought to occur when genetic differences interact with many other factors. Previous studies have suggested these may include prenatal infections, preterm birth and parents’ age.
Puzzle Café currently trains seven individuals with autism, and two people with Down’s Syndrome, who are mostly in their early 20s.
They were initially given simple tasks of taking orders and clearing tables, but some of them are already being trained to have kitchen duties as well, and handle easy recipes for sandwiches and waffles.
Earlier this month, Dacki Sandiego was hired as assistant chef at Puzzle Café.
The 22-year old, who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, graduated from a culinary school last year.
“I’m looking forward to work, to work well with other people, because it’s all that matters,” says Sandiego.
Mona Veluz, national president of Autism Society Philippines, says that while there are already establishments in the country that employ people with autism, Puzzle Café offers a unique approach.
Her 22-year old son Carl also works at the café.
“What’s great about it is the fact that they’re very open about, this family, this café, supporting autism acceptance and inclusion, it creates a buzz, it creates a template for other small businesses and other large businesses to follow” says Veluz.
Josephine de Jesus, a speech and language therapist has been helping Jose and two other people with disabilities who work at Puzzle Café.
“I wrote scripts for them so when people do come in, they can start conversation with them,” de Jesus says. “But as we are going on with this operation, we found that they can come up with their own scripts outside from what we have trained them to use. And I think that’s great that they are becoming more spontaneous.”
Dr Anna Treichler, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician says it is important to continue to try to increase the social skills of people on the autism spectrum after they leave formal education, as they are usually very introverted.
“So it’s a continuing process, it’s a continuing growth for them. We don’t stop at now that you know how to interact with your classmates, that’s the end. Of course not. We take them from the home, to the therapy, to the school, to the wider community, because the aim is full assimilation, or assimilation to the degree that is most possible for that particular individual.”
Rolando and Rina Lou dela Paz are enjoying a meal with their two sons.
Their youngest, seven year old Hans, was diagnosed with autism four years ago.
Rina Lou, who resigned recently from her job to take care of Hans, says it helps to know that other families are facing similar challenges to their own.
“I feel some security in a way, somehow, I know some people that are dealing also with that (autism),” said dela Paz. “If for example they also have struggles, I can ask the people here how they go about it. Somehow, it eases me.”
Autism Society Philippines estimates that about one million Filipinos have autism spectrum disorder. The population of the Philippines is around 100 million according to the Population Commission.
Only 10 percent, or 100,000, have been formally diagnosed.
Of those diagnosed, only five percent, or 5,000 individuals with autism are receiving intervention in terms of therapy and special education.
The official launch of the café was timed to mark ‘Autism Awareness Month’ in April.