By Rob & Denise Resnik
(Rob and Denise join their son Matt as co-founders of SMILE Biscotti. After three years of operations, they offer this perspective on the productive and dedicated SMILE team.)
Our family started SMILE Biscotti in 2013 to help adults with autism develop solid work skills and progress towards full-time employment. In addition, we hoped to demonstrate that persons on the spectrum could produce and sell a product in a competitive environment without accepting grants or financial contributions. Although we have received significant, non-monetary contributions from moms, dads and other family members and friends, 160,000 biscotti later, we have succeeded in ways we never imagined. Our biscotti are sold online nationwide as well as in dozens of retail outlets from Peet’s Coffee & Tea to Sprouts grocery stores in Phoenix.
Along the way, we have learned so much about the capabilities of our special population, including some surprises. Starting out we assumed that employee productivity would be roughly proportional to the relative level of functioning that might be attributed to an individual on the spectrum. WRONG!!
What we learned instead was that persons at all points on the spectrum can be incredibly productive once they are matched with an appropriate task and given sufficient training. At that point they become more productive than typical peers. They show up for work every day, sign in and follow the day’s schedule to a tee. In fact, if we finish a task before a scheduled break and ask, “Would you like to take your break now or do more work?” The answer is always, “More work.”
We consistently observe what we call “SMILE Miracles” such as when people who are functionally non-verbal communicate with each other in ways that improve their ability to complete tasks together. Without asking us, our employees develop short-cuts that we now use every day to improve productivity. They voluntarily help others by holding doors, helping to lift packages and managing supplies, without ever being trained to do so.
As parents, we are of course advocates for our adult children and have always tried to recognize and develop their potential. Still we have been pleasantly surprised at how beautifully all of our special workers have performed. We always try to carry this message to the broader community because if parents can underestimate the potential of their children, imagine how others must view our population!
Denise is the founder and president of the marketing and communications firm, DRA Strategic Communications. She also serves as a member of the Arizona Community Foundation Board of Directors and member of the Arizona Advisory Board of BBVA Compass.
The mother of a 24-year-old son with autism, Denise is the founder, president and board chair of First Place AZ (www.firstplaceaz.org), a nonprofit dedicated to developing new, innovative housing options for adults with autism and other ‘special abilities,’ and the co-founder and board member emeritus of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC, www.autismcenter.org), an internationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to autism research, education and community outreach and the support of individuals with autism and their families throughout their lifetimes.
Other nonprofit leadership includes serving as a member of the Autism Speaks Housing Committee, Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism (AFAA) Leadership Council, National Association of Residential Providers for Adults with Autism (NARPAA) and the National Autism Transition Research Network Advisory Panel. Denise also served as a federally appointed member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) of the National Institutes of Health.