Autism Awareness Month: Hitting Close To Home
With April being Autism Awareness Month, we thought we would share the following article about a local Chef and her son, who has autism, here in the Myrtle Beach community that we live and work in. She cooks some mean waffles, too!
Myrtle Beach, S.C. (WPDE) — Johnny D’s Waffles and Bakery in Myrtle Beach is a family owned business that serves more than just waffles: You can also get a plate full of knowledge about a disorder that’s touched the lives of many in our community.
Facebook posts are popping up on the Johnny D’s Facebook page. They’re profiles about autistic people.
Turns out, Johnny D’s daughter, Chef Jamie Saunders, has a son named James who was diagnosed with autism.
Before that, she had no idea what it was and was admittedly upset about finding out her son had it. But now, she’s just the opposite and finds joy in helping others understand autism.
“It worked out. I loved doing it from their point of views, so I had their parents, I gave them a little flyer to fill out, their likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses and how old they are, what kind of therapy, what were the symptoms that they first showed that led to them to being diagnosed,” said Saunders.
This is the third year she’s done it. Each day during Autism Awareness Month, Saunders features a different person with autism on the restaurant’s Facebook page. James is her inspiration.
“There’s so many other people who don’t have any ties to autism and those are the people who I want to read them, because I want them to understand our children and to accept our children and to know that just because someone has autism, doesn’t make them any less than we are,” said Saunders.
She couldn’t agree more with the artwork on the walls of Johnny D’s. There’s a painting on one wall that reads “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
“I’m always scared that when my son gets older, what’s going to happen to him? Will people accept him? What about when I’m gone? Every year when more and more people are sending these heartfelt messages and taking the time to read the stories, it gives me hope,” she said.
Hope is also being served to her by James.
“So many times I would think ‘he’s never going to get this, he’s never going to get this,’ and one day he got it,” said Saunders who says potty training was the last time she’d ever say “He’s never going to get this.”
He keeps “getting it,” and she hopes everyone else will “get it”–that autism doesn’t define people, from her experience, especially not James.
“Pure joy. Imagine feeling pure joy all the time. That’s what I see when I look at James. It’s beautiful. And I wish that sometimes I could see the world from his point of view, because if only I could be that happy,” Saunders said.
James goes to therapy 25 hours a week, which Saunders says is very similar to a part time job, and she also wants to pass along the message that people with autism are working hard to learn about the world around them, it just may take a little bit longer.
Johnny D’s is one of several restaurants in the area that accepts CAN cards.
CAN stands for Champion Autism Network and it’s a card that shows the needs of an autistic person.
So when a family with an autistic member shows up at a place, they can discreetly let servers know by handing them the card.
For more information about CAN cards, click here.
To learn more about the early signs and symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit this website.