Mother Starts Highly Successful Company for Individuals with Autism

By Joe Manion

[Note: Some information in this article was gleaned from news articles on Spectrum Design as well as viewing the film, The Business of Autism”.]

Recently I attended a feature length film about a grass roots company called Spectrum Designs that changed lives. For many reasons, the film is outstanding and a must-see. It’s called “The Business of Autism”, was produced by documentary filmmaker Stephen Mackey from Loudoun County, and examines the amazing start and growth of Spectrum Designs. The film was shown at the U.S. Capitol’s Visitors Center for the Autism Employment Policy Discussion and Reception hosted by Congressman Mike Kelly and Congressman Thomas Suozzi. I was lucky enough to speak with Stephen Mackey, as well hear discussion from the Spectrum’s founder and many of the individuals in the film in attendance.

The film highlights the benefits of hiring young adults on the autism spectrum, and emphasizes the need for federal investment in supporting inclusive employment opportunities and the societal benefits of providing meaningful employment for those on the spectrum. It is estimated that 70% – 90% of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed, and that 500,000 adults with autism will become workforce age in the next ten years. With an estimated cost of over $2,000,000 to house and care for each person with autism throughout their lifetime, this is truly a looming societal crisis.

But the film—available on Netflix—is for everybody as it tells the story of Stella Spanakos who started her journey as the mother of Nicholas, who has autism, like many of us—uncertain about the future. When her husband passed way in 2010, Stella knew she decided to act. She opened up a nonprofit company called Spectrum Designs that did custom screen printing, embroidery, and digital printing for businesses local to Port Washington, N.Y. Her 21 employees, most of whom have autism, thrived in the structured routine required to make their products.

Years later, last March to be exact, Spectrum moved into its new flagship location – tripling production space and hiring capabilities. The client list now includes Uber, Google, and a host of other established customers. Spectrum Designs impacted the lives of 70 individuals and their families and created over 15,000 paid hours of meaningful work for individuals with Autism.

Please see the film.

Spectrum Designs’ website.


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