CHICAGO — A Northwest Side mother, frustrated by the lack of programs for young adults with autism, became inspired to provide hope.
Liza Curiel felt there was a void in many Latino communities when it comes to helping those with autism.
But instead of despair, she drew inspiration while she attended a party for her son Sebastian and his friends who have autism.
“And so I was looking at this living room full of young men who brought baked goods instead of liquor to a party,” she said. “And that’s when the idea was born.”
It was a sweet idea to create opportunities through a new enterprise, Unique Sweets. Unique Sweets fills online orders through their Facebook page and caters their elegant cupcakes for a wedding or business gathering.
“The business model is baking and we’re using that to address a social issue,” she said. “There are about 40, 50, 60% of young adults with autism and a college degree who are currently unemployed .. It’s an unseen disability. It’s very difficult for people to see their disability. As a mom, I can’t tell you how many times people have said, ‘I don’t see anything wrong with him.’”
Unique Sweets’ supportive work environment gives young adults the confidence they need to strengthen social skills. They don’t offer full time employment, instead it is an opportunity to “practice the skills that they need so that they can go out and get to that place they want to be,” Curiel said.
But it’s more than just work experience. The goal is to have their own space one day and provide wrap-around social services from counseling to job-training and more.
Curiel hopes Unique Sweets will give young adults and their parents the tools they need for self-sufficiency.
She will soon graduate with a Masters Degree in ‘non-profit’ management. She started a group for moms with sons and daughters with autism called Latinas United in Love for Autism or LULA for short.
Until they can build their own space, Unique Sweets is looking for commercial kitchen space to expand operations. They’re even planning Unique Sweets socials this Fall and invite young adults with autism to have fun and work on social skills.