April is National Autism Awareness Month and Smashburger is hosting a series of community dine-out fundraising events. To help promote awareness of autism and how it effects local residents, the Examiner had dinner last night at the Smashburger in Aliso Viejo with Stephen Sandoval, VP of Quality Control for Smashburger Orange County and guests Deirdre Selby and Sean Selby. Sean is now 18 years old and has dealt with autism his entire life. Over Smashburgers and shakes, the Selbys told Stephen what it is like to be a mother who has a son with autism, while Sean spoke about some of his challenges growing up, how he deals with his own autism and his plans for the future.
"This is hyper-local for us”, Stephen began. “We chose to do autism in-house with our local management team. We wanted to reach out to a greater cause. As you know, we did the 'national pink shakes for cancer', but this time we wanted to do something that was more personal. One of our office managers has a son who is autistic and she took on the project and really owned it. She reached out to Autism Now and coordinated this whole event with them. Now, from 6:30 to 8:30pm, twenty percent of the proceeds are going to go to Community Autism Now. Guests also have the option of donating any time through our charity box at the front counter”, he said. The next Tuesday dine-in event will also happen at Smashburger in San Clemente on April 22 from 6:30 to 8:30pm, where not only will guests be able to show their support for Community Autism Now but to meet members of Community Autism Now at the location.
“I personally have to go out to places that have loud noises with earplugs because I know that loud noises set off my natural reaction to a temper tantrum I'm always aware of that fact”, Sean explained. Deirdre continued, “It makes him very edgy; when we go to a concert he uses earplugs so he can enjoy the music the same as the rest of us. Otherwise, he gets very edgy, difficult and pokey”. According to Sean, “I get more 'touchy-feely' the louder it gets, which is difficult for my mom, because she's not a 'touchy-feely' person!'”.
“At school, I'm about the slowest writer in my class, so they gave me 'Dragon Dictation' software so what I dictate is written down. It allows me to get excellent grades on essays and other efforts”, Sean said. “I'm actually an aspiring writer, because of Dragon Dictation”, Sean told everyone. Stephen added, “It's great to see someone so happy and so kind”. “There are still few people who want to admit that autism actually exists”, Sean brought up. “It's great to see that someone actually understands that it exists. It's a lot of work to make people aware of it. 'Denial is more than just a river in Egypt', as they say”.
“We have gone through schools because he's very bright. We've had to transfer high schools because the Honors classes would not accept his individual education plan and allow him the accommodations that were in it. The said that if the student could be in an Honors class that they shouldn't need someone to take notes for them, that they should be able to do it for themselves. Intelligence is not equal to writing skills. There have been some major nightmares where people who are just unwilling to accept that you have an intelligent person who can't express it in the standard format”, Deirdre explained.
“The more knowledge, the more people can understand this not as an affliction, but as a gift; as a positive rather than a negative. It needs a different form of parenting, a different style of input”, Deirdre said. “I think I agree with everything you guys are saying”, added Stephen. “Not only is it to bring out the awareness, but to really appreciate it for what it is, how to appreciate life and the different ways of learning to overcome any hurdles can make them seem like they are actually not there, once those tools or that knowledge is actually made available”.
“My mom had to buy a lawyer to make sure that the schools cooperate and not try to get the least amount of accommodations”, Sean said. Stephen replied, “It should get to the point where lawyers do not need to get involved, but when action needs to be taken to that extent, and having these kind of fundraisers, I didn't know much about this. But when I talked to Sara, one of our office managers, and she educated me about having the difficulties with her son, trying to get that accessibility, or that understanding for the potential this individual has, though they may not be good in one thing but excellent in another. The excellent side is always going to outshine; and that's with everybody, I think”.
“It's awesome to have autism brought into the greater awareness, and to have people like this wanting to facilitate an understanding”, pointed out Deirdre. Stephen finished by saying, “I think that's important, For us it's fun, because there's more to the burger business than just reaching sales or food costs. It's about giving back and for us, having this project where we're able to choose what we want to bring awareness to, what we want to shine a light on to; and autism is something that and we're glad to participate and we hope we make a difference with whatever contributions we can make. We're a small company within a larger franchise but we're doing what we can”.
After enjoying Smashburgers, Smashfries, onion rings and fried pickles, Deirdre said, “The food was wonderful. In fact, every dish was empty!”. After the meal, Sean got to go in the kitchen and was taught how to make his first Smashburger. He said, “It was awesome! Even though I didn't do it as well as I would have liked, he said it was good for a first try”. Stephen added, “Not many people can get the sear on the burger right on the first try. I don't even think I did! It takes a little skill and a little technique”.
Deirdre concluded, by saying, “Every challenge we're given is also given with a gift. God doesn't give challenges without giving gifts to match. Finding the gift sometimes is just a tiny bit more difficult!”.
Smashburger fans are invited to join Community Autism Now on Tuesday, April 22 at the San Clemente location (806 Ave. Pico). Smashburger will donate 20 percent of sales between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on all specified dine-out nights. Drop boxes will also be available at all front counters, throughout the month of April, for those guests who wish to continue to donate to Community Autism Now.
26541 Aliso Creek Road, Suite C
Aliso Viejo, CA
Ph: (949) 716-3855
806 Avenida Pico, Suite E
San Clemente, CA 92673
Ph: (949) 248-4900
The Shops at Mission Viejo
Mission Viejo, CA
Ph: (949) 364-1246