New York Cafe Helps Those With Autism Enter The Workforce

Puzzles Bakery and Cafe believes everyone deserves the opportunity to hold a job.

Hands hold heart with Autism Awareness Logo
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Puzzles Bakery and Cafe believes everyone deserves the opportunity to hold a job.

Many take their job for granted, assuming that it will always be there or that they can easily find a new one if needed. They might grumble about their boss or their day-to-day stress. However, some individuals dream just to have a job they can call their own. For those with special needs or developmental disabilities, finding a job can be very difficult, if not impossible. Often companies don’t want to take a chance on hiring someone with special needs or put in the effort of training them. Even if they do hire them, they may only give them tedious tasks that don’t allow them to perform to their fullest potential.

According to Today, a New York cafe called Puzzles Bakery and Cafe is helping these individuals by offering them engaging jobs and treating them as equals. Using a puzzle piece as part of their logo for autism awareness, the cafe recognizes that those with disabilities are just as able to contribute to society and work hard. With more than half of their staff having special needs, Puzzles provides the opportunity to work as well as be apart of a supportive and caring community.

Thirty-five-year-old Andra Moore is an employee at the restaurant and is on the autism spectrum. She spoke about her gratitude to Puzzles for treating her with respect.

“I’ve always been treated like less than,” Moore said. “Given the tasks that nobody wants to do. And then, just not expected to do much or not expected to be able to do much, not treated like I’m competent or know anything.” Her position at the company has given her the confidence to aspire to starting her own ice cream parlor one day.

Twenty-eight-year-old Sara Mae Pratt is the owner of Puzzles. She started the restaurant in 2015 after being inspired by her sister, Emily, who is on the lower functioning end of the autism spectrum. She recalls she and her family attempting to go out to dinner together when she was younger and fearing that Emily might have a public meltdown. The stares and quick judgements that are often brought on by such meltdowns can cause parents with autistic children to avoid going out altogether. Pratt hoped that by opening Puzzles she could create an environment that is welcoming and judgement free.

“But what I love about Puzzles is everyone can feel really at home and safe here,” she said. “All of our employees are really understanding and trained. They would completely understand if somebody was vocalizing or maybe rocking back and forth or having a meltdown in a way that might be sort of socially inappropriate elsewhere. It’s okay here.”