We first worked with Spectrum Designs, the maker of customized apparel, totes and hats made by young people with autism in 2012.  A small company with a big heart and expansive ambitions, Spectrum Designs is a success story still unfolding. Beyond producing merchandise for regional and autism-specific organizations, the firm recently signed with national and global businesses such as Facebook, Neiman Marcus, Bloomberg, KPMG and Accenture.  It is now an approved vendor of customized products at Staples, and was recently awarded a 3-year contract to produce over 4000 pieces of safety wear to the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York.

We cannot be prouder of our support for this grantee, which was made possible by our benefit event, Night of Too Many Stars.

Along with our grant, NEXT for AUTISM helped Spectrum Designs develop strategies to better engage employees with ASD and improve productivity. On a visit, we noticed a lack of follow-through among some workers. When they completed their tasks, these workers simply waited to be told what to do next.  While this behavior is typical of people

with ASD, it can be remedied with clear communications and concrete, visual instruction. We encouraged Patrick Bardsley, Spectrum’s president, and his team to visit the Walgreens Connecticut Distribution Center, an exemplary work site for people with developmental disabilities.  The team met Joe Wendover, a Walgreens site manager and an expert in workplace optimization for people with developmental disabilities. After a day spent touring the facility, they left with immediately useful ideas.

“It was amazing,” recalled Mr. Bardsley.  “There were visual aids and prompts everywhere.”  “The principles hat guide Joe’s work will be very helpful to us.”

On returning to Spectrum Designs, Mr. Bardsley and his team quickly implemented some of Walgreens’ visual strategies. They created signs for each of their work stations, with names and pictures that appealed to the young workers. An eight-armed printing machine became The Octopus, enabling supervisors to easily provide directions to employees. A drying machine with a conveyer belt that required a worker on each end was renamed the Dragon Front and the Dragon Back, again making directions and staff deployment more efficient.

Borrowing from Walgreens, the team has taped lines on the floor of its current space to mark off distinct stations and pathways to improve the workflow.  These simple visual cues, while seeming to point out the obvious, are crucial to literal learners with ASD.  Spectrum Designs plans to reproduce and enhance these visual aids in a new, significantly larger space that it is moving to this fall.

Based on further advice from NEXT for AUTISM, Spectrum Designs will apply a portion of its grant to expand business-to-business commerce, specifically to attend trade shows, develop a marketing plan, update its business plan, and invest in printing samples for use when pitching to new clients.

“This is a path that is not well-trodden [by non-profits],” said Mr. Bardsley, “We welcome NEXT for AUTISM’s perspective on expanding our business-to-business clientele and enabling productivity among our employees.”

Though he operates a non-profit, Patrick Bardsley holds Spectrum Designs to professional, business standards. “We are a business first,” he explained, “as far as our clients are concerned, we care about price, quality, and time frame”

With respect to people with autism, however, Spectrum Designs remains true to its heart and the belief thatpeople with autism can be trained and nurtured to become productive members of society – a perfect alignment with NEXT for AUTISM and our values.

Please visit www.spectrumdesigns.org for more information. Congratulations to Spectrum Designs on opening its new and expansive plant in the fall of 2017!