It was wonderful to join Anna Kennedy at the Women’s Radio Station again. Once we start talking, it’s clear we have so much useful information to share. As both parents and professionals with connection to autism, we are very passionate about supporting others. Fundamentally, our conversation centred on nutrition and autism.
I created a snack for my son Ethan, back in the days, when he didn’t eat enough. Soon after, an idea evolved to find some sort of sustainable work opportunity for the otherwise unemployable single mum with the severely autistic boy and so began the idea for the Functional Food Company from my home kitchen. The fast-growing population of people with allergies also demanded more choices of healthy, lunch box friendly snacks.
I was surprised how much my son (aged 10 at the time) Ethan wanted to participate and I thought of making this a future opportunity for him and others.
We now provide work training, experience and employment to young adults with special needs and autism; proving that given the right environment and support everyone can participate in the world of work and shine. This is what we call #teamnono.
The generation of young people that I am working with, had very few expectations of independence, or working. I hope that we can learn something from them, for future generations to be better prepared. At #teamnono we say #nonoexclusion and #nonobullying
We want opportunity not charity. We want sales not donations
During the radio interview I shared with Anna how we have included all the students from Leighton College (further educational provision for young adults with special needs) in our latest ‘Identity’ project. The project was not just the ones able to work in the kitchen, but absolutely everyone. A collaborative artwork was then used to create the box design. Students chose their own chocolates with each named after that individual.
The box was named ‘Identity’ to break the stigma around disability, nationality, race and to demonstrate that true identity comes from uniqueness. The artwork will be included in upcoming exhibition by Ecclestone Art supported by Dame Emma Thompson and exhibited at the Burgh House in Hampstead. The box has became a hit and we’ve received wonderful feedback from chocolate critics, customers as well as a support from local businesses that have included our product in their shops.
The past few months, we have been ‘touring’ many north London stores promoting and getting a feedback on our work. The favourite flavour so far has been fresh mint and lime mojito chocolate and roasted coconut, but nothing bits the zesty orange caramel. You won’t notice it’s sugar free – and it’s Anna’s favourite. Indeed, Classroom arts and crafts became a reality for our young people who have been valued and respected for what they can do.
Autism and going on holidays
We also talked with Anna about the elephant in the room – the summer holidays – which can be very hard for us as parents and our children. Drawing from my personal experience I have found some things useful, such as:
- Personalised clothing stamps that I use to mark my son’s clothes with my name and phone number, including his pyjamas as he once left home in the middle of the night and no one knew who he was. Two useful websites for these are Stamptastic and Stikets
- If your child is a ‘runner’ I also learned that your local police can have your child’s up to date picture on the system, so that if your child is found unattended anywhere, and unable to speak, the police can quickly find your details and reunite you with your child. We have had to learn this the hard way.
- Autism t-shirts, is something that has made a huge difference to us when out and about. Not every disability is visible, and public reaction to your child’s unusual behaviour can be easily diffused if people only knew that this is not a bad behaviour. I can’t tell you how many times we have had a member of public sending us a smile instead of ‘the look’. I have designed all my son’s t-shirts over the years and made it relevant to his age. I have a few t-shirts to give away for the little ones, age 2 to 5. Please send your enquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also buy more grown up t-shirts.
As a lone parent who completely relies on carers for support, the holidays are very difficult. I find it hard to do shopping or go to places that aren’t familiar for my son. In the supermarket my son would walk fast or run, and I was never able to get everything we need it in one visit. He would also wander off so many times.
Now we use a wheelchair provided by most supermarkets, where he is calmer, cocooned and relaxed enough to tell me what I am adding to the trolley. That way shopping is a pleasure and a learning opportunity. You can rent a wheelchair from British Red Cross for the summer.
How to get in touch with us
You can find more about what we do and the beautiful, handmade, vegan, gluten-free snacks and chocolates we produce at our website, and use discount code ‘AKO19’ for 15% off.
You can also see our magazine which was prepared by the students from Leighton College. Both as a parent and professional, I have found reading this very insightful and useful.
As a parent and public speaker on autism, I also share information from my latest appearance in SEN Virtual Summit where I talk about supporting young people with autism during puberty. For more information, you can subscribe here.
If you would like to be updated on #teamnono work and also to access useful information and resources, please click here to subscribe.
You can hear Alessandra’s interview on Women’s Radio Station at 1pm everyday this week.
Alessandra Bester is an advocate who is determined to make dietary intervention compulsory part of management programme.