Spectrum Designs provides jobs for Autistic adults

Seth Barshay, Sports Editor

In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the new number of children being diagnosed with autism: 1 in 68.  This is a significant rise from the previous 1 in 88, which had also shown a rise from the number before it.  In Port Washington and around the country, several programs exist to help children and teenagers diagnosed with autism with activities such as interacting with others and getting exercise.  However, it is rare to find such programs for those diagnosed with autism over the age of 18.

One of these programs is part of the Spectrum Designs Foundation, which is located at the Community Chest of Port Washington on 382 Main Street, next door to the recently opened Autism Speaks Long Island office.

The Spectrum Designs Foundation is a nonprofit organization that creates custom clothing for several companies, local sports teams, and Autism Speaks events.  It was cofounded by program director Patrick Bardsley, CEO Stella L. Spanakos and development director Nicole Sugrue.  What makes it unique is that it provides employment for over 30 adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

“This is something that I’ve always wanted to do. I see a lot of time, money, and energy rightfully going towards younger-aged children with autism, but after 21, funding is withdrawn a lot, so I’m really happy that we have the opportunity to fill some of that void,” said Bardsley.

The foundation trains and employs local autistic individuals, mainly from Port Washington, Manhasset, Great Neck, and other surrounding communities.  It originated in a 250-square-foot barn in Manhasset, but they moved to the Community Chest in 2012 and are currently in their third year of operation.  Their sales now reach nearly half a million dollars annually.

One of its more recent ventures was teaming up with 16-year-old Roslyn student Hannah Greenberg.  Greenberg designed a line of 26 t-shirts that were created through the Spectrum Designs Foundation.

“It’s fantastic and really great what she has done.  I know that she’s very artistic and she loves doing this, it’s our pleasure to be printing the shirts for her.  It helps get the word around, and it’s really great to give Hannah something that she really loves to do,” said Bardsley.

The line, called “Hannah Leigh for Spectrum Designs,” has been a success, selling nearly 200 t-shirts this past year.  Actress Denise Richards has been spotted wearing one of the shirts designed by Hannah.

At this time, the Spectrum Designs Foundation is planning for an expansion and replication of their program across Long Island.

“All these ‘1 in 68’s’ are going to become adults and there is already a wave coming of those individuals who are going to need places of real employment and real training.  It’s hard enough to get a job nowadays, so I think it’s important to have places like this,” said Bardsley.