Spectrum Designs in Port Washington, NY, is a branch of the Nicholas Center for Autism. Three-quarters of the custom decoration shop’s employees have autism or another developmental disorder.
The staff of Spectrum Designs (from left): Andrew King, Peter Rooney, Tim Howe, Steven Weber, Patrick Bardsley, Allison Schear, Dave Thompson, Samantha Forrester and Jason Barlow. The shop offers screen printing, embroidery, direct-to-garment printing and heat transfer.
Patrick Bardsley, co-founder and president of Spectrum Designs, is a 27-year-old UK transplant with a master’s in special education, loves being at the helm of a socially conscious business. Autistic individuals “come here and leave with skills they can use elsewhere,” he says. “That’s the whole point. That’s what motivates us.”
Dave Thompson (left) helps Steven Weber, an 18-year-old autistic teen who is nonverbal, clean screens. Spectrum pays a little more to used soy-based cleaners and other non-chemical products to protect the autistic population it employs.
Peter Rooney adds custom hangtags to an order of sweatshirts. The autistic 19-year-old says working in a custom apparel shop has been “cool.”
Samantha Forrester shows Andrew King how to trim stray threads from the inside of an embroidered baseball cap. The autistic 20-year-old required only a few hours of training before he was ready to try cleaning up caps on his own. Keen observational skills and attention to detail are often symptomatic of autism, Bardsley says. “Nothing gets past our guys,” he adds.
Employees of Spectrum Designs are paid over the minimum wage for their work, Bardsley says. “This isn’t pretend,” he adds. “It’s a real, authentic job for them. … Seeing them get their first paycheck and figure out what do with it, that connection is really magical.”