Unlike any other coffee shops in Bangkok and elsewhere, this small coffee shop in Ekamai Soi 10 is quite unique as it does not only serve soft drinks, coffee, food and bakery to customers, but also serves as learning and occupational training centre for autistic youth.
Moreover, it provides a space for youth with autism to demonstrate their capabilities and to enjoy life.
So, when you drop in for a soft drink, a cup of coffee or bakery, you will feel an air of warmness and friendliness from the waiters and waitresses who are all autistic youth.
Besides the section for customers, the coffee shop has a separate sector which is used as a learning and occupational training centre for the autistic youth. All the activities provided at the centre are drawn from the courses from Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network (ASDAN) of Britain.
ASDAN is a British charity organization with awarding body status, headquartered in Bristol. It provides educational opportunities for young people, helping learners to develop their personal and social attributes through its award programmes and qualifications. It began as a research project of the University of the West of England in the 1980s and was formally established as an educational charity in 1991.
One of the founders of the Sukhumvit Soi 10 coffee shop, Ms Theeta Hotrakitya, told the Thai PBS that she got the inspiration to open the premise from her son with autism and wants to engage in activities to promote the capabilities and skills of these “special” youth.
“In the Thai society, there are still people who do not understand people who require special needs and have a misconception that these people cannot work and have no working capabilities. This is shutting the opportunities for youth (with autism) to have an occupation or just to live a life on their own feet,” said Ms Theeta.
There are various activities for skill development provided at the centre. For instance, entering the kitchen which is an activity designed to develop skill in two aspects – muscle exercise and taking orders. More importantly, they have to take responsibility by themselves.
“It does not matter whether they can do it well or not because there are trainers who are food experts and specialists in skill development who will give them encouragement to do everything by themselves.”
Like training ordinary children, Ms Theeta said that these “special” children need encouragement and reminder that they can do it themselves and it is too difficult for them “hence, we start with something easy, so they know they can do it and they will finish it.”
“It does not matter they cannot do it. Just do it step by step and do it repeatedly and they will make it. The key is we must spend time with them,” Ms Theeta told the Thai PBS.
Take the case of 24-year old Marisa Sucharittanonta or Anna who loves to make bakery, Brownie and cup cake in particular. She said she aspired to own a coffee shop in the future.
Or 20-year old Nicholas Wedemeyer who said he would like to be a computer programmer although he joined in the cooking lesson while 19-year old Pichayudh Sutcheawcharn, alias Pop, said he loves art and hopes, one day, he will have his own website to publicize his works.
She disclosed that a computer company has accepted some of the autistic youth at the centre for training which, she said, will be very helpful to the kids so they can learn the skill in the real environment.
“Finally, we are not the one that will hire these youth. They are the companies that will hire them. But getting outside training will help them learn the actual working skill,” said Ms Theeta.
This is not an ordinary coffee shop, but a safety zone to give opportunities for the “special” youth to develop their skill and capabilities so that, one day, they will have a job and live a life on their own.
Hopefully, this coffee shop will serve as a model to be adopted by other educational institutions so that children and youth with autism will not be neglected and given opportunities for skill development so they may, one day, stand on their own feet and live a normal life.
(Reporting by Pornwadee Lartnadee,Thai PBS)