Apr 17, 2013

One and Only, Special Cookie by Love at First Bite

Hey friends!  I'm Rebekah, owner and baker at Love at First Bite.  I was ecstatic and honored, when Kim asked me to be a guest blogger for Autism Awareness month.  I was recently introduced to Kim when I joined a group of lovely gals who all have the same passion, baking and decorating cookies.  Following Kim's post, I learned that we have much more in common than just cookies.  We both have loved ones that are affected by ASD (also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder).
Autism.  A word we all have heard, but perhaps don't completely comprehend.   To some, it means personally living the experience or knowing a friend or loved one who lives it.  For others, it is conceivably an insignificant word.  10 years ago, I couldn't tell you one fact about Autism.  I knew it existed, but it personally didn't affect me.  As the saying goes "out of sight, out of mind".  I remember watching the movie “Rain Man” and foolishly thinking that those who were affected by Autism, were exactly like the character Raymond Babbitt.  I knew nothing about the spectrum and the three recognized disorders that fall under ASD (Autism, Asperger Syndrome and PDD-NOS).  It wasn’t until someone I love was diagnosed, that I decided to educate myself on what Autism truly means. 

My wonderful and beautiful sister Veronica, has a son who was diagnosed with PDD-NOS at age 6.   He is my nephew and his name is Nick.  When my sister was given the news, she was quite devastated.  As a small child, Nick had some quirkiness about him, but she didn’t think it was Autism.  Little did we all know, at that time.  Nick would try to keep his attention by humming or walking in circles around you when he was talking to you.  He use to give great big bear hugs to everyone he saw.   Those hugs were probably out of pure love, but they were also providing sensory input that he craved.
It’s been a journey for Nick and for his family.  At times they are educators, sharing what works best for Nick.  Teachers have been appreciative of the information they are given, as they want Nick to be successful just as his family does.  At other times, their patience is tried such as when things don’t go as Nick wants them to and he has a meltdown.  He’s 13 now and they occasionally are witness to tantrums, as is the public.  This behavior has been the hardest for them to help him through.  When Veronica shared her experiences with me, she said something that I hear often from parents with Autistic children.  “We truly see things differently at times.  Although it may be a challenge, I have come to learn a lot from Nick, as I think his father and sister has as well.  He has certainly taught me more than I’d ever think I’d learn or want to learn about the universe and geology, but he has also taught me patience and understanding.”  I just love that!!!  Life throws us challenges every day and although my sister has more daily challenges, she proves to be a strong Mother who truly loves her family.
Nick’s diagnosis of PDD-NOS, is a term some of you may or may not have heard.  Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) is one of the five autism spectrum disorders.  It is also one of the five disorders classified as a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD).  PDD-NOS is often called atypical autism, because the criteria for autistic disorder are not met, for instance because of late age of onset. Even though PDD-NOS is considered milder than typical autism, this is not always true. While some characteristics may be milder, others may be more severe.

Characteristics of many individuals with PDD-NOS are the following:
~ Communication difficulties (e.g., using and understanding language)
~ Difficulty with social behavior
~ Difficulty with changes in routines or environments
~ Uneven skill development (strengths in some areas and delays in others)
~ Unusual play with toys and other objects
~ Repetitive body movements or behavior patterns
~ Unusual likes and dislikes
Individuals with PDD-NOS belong to one of three very different subgroups:
1. A high-functioning group (around 25%) whose symptoms largely overlap with that of Asperger syndrome, but who differ in terms of having a lag in language development and mild cognitive impairment.
2.  A group (around 25 %) whose symptoms more closely resemble those of autistic disorder, but do not fully meet all its diagnostic signs and symptoms.
3.  The largest group (around 50 %) consists of those who meet all the diagnostic criteria for autistic disorder, but whose stereotypical and repetitive behaviors are noticeably mild.
Did you get all that???  Great!!!  Now that I have done a little educating, we can move to the subject of supporting Autism.  For the past couple of years, I have donated cookies to Autism York, a local support group here in Central Pennsylvania.  They hold an annual Autism Walk every April, with vendors and tons of fun entertainment for the kids. This past weekend, I was lucky enough to be a vendor.  And it was the most rewarding thing I have EVER done!!!  When I first arrived to set up my table, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  First off, I was thinking that I made way too many cookies for the event.  Second, I was completely unaware that some kids with special needs, such as Autism…can’t tolerate certain foods (e.g., milk, eggs and especially gluten).  As it turns out, studies show that people effected by Autism benefit from living a Gluten/Casein (dairy) free lifestyle.  I was heartbroken.  I was there to support and raise money for a wonderful cause and here I had a table full of cookies, made with eggs and high gluten flour.  Boys and girls of all ages were coming up to my table wanting a cookie, but were told that they were not able to eat them due to their sensitivities.  This situation made me realize that maybe I should do my research and figure out a way to make cookies that everyone can enjoy.  As time moved on, more supporters came walking in the school (over 1,200 people) and the day got brighter for me.  Parents, kids, families and friends, all stopped by my stand to help show their support.  Some even came back for seconds.  But the highlight of my day, was meeting a 6-year-old girl named Rachel.  She was waiting in the balloon line with her mom, when a cookie caught her eye.  She came over and asked if I could read it out loud to her, for there was only one left of its kind.  It read “Always Unique, Totally Interesting, Sometimes Mysterious”.  She asked me if it was a special cookie. I told her it was special because it was made for her and she is one of a kind.  She went back to her mom and a few seconds later, she was back at my table with money in hand.  She asked if she could buy my “one and only, special cookie.”  She gave me the money, ran back in line and gobbled up that cookie.  I watched her intently, for nothing is more rewarding than seeing someone enjoying what you have created for them.  I got up from my table, went over to her and asked, “Did you enjoy that special cookie”?   With black icing all over her face and hands, she replied “That was the most delicious special cookie that I have ever had!”  Talk about making my day!  Rachel was wearing a special hug necklace that she got from the event (a pom-pom made of yarn), that you pass to everyone you hug.  She put it around my neck and hugged me.  I could see she was very attached to it, but she insisted that I wear it.  I put it around my neck, gave her another hug and then put it back around her neck.  She lit up and said, “Do I get to keep this”?  I said to her, “You will need it to keep hugging others and after all, you give the best hugs”.  She gave me another hug before she left and then the tears trickled down my face.  I remember getting those exact hugs from Nick, when he was young.  Whether they were sensory inputs or not…they will always be hugs of LOVE to me.  My day ended by handing 100% of my profits which was $245, to the president of Autism York.  That was such a wonderful feeling!

Now, I will talk a little about all of my cookie designs.  When researching online, I saw a TON of Autism clip art.  The butterfly with puzzle pieces was one that caught my eye right away.  To me, a butterfly is precious and beautiful.  It starts off as just a caterpillar, but over time transforms into a miracle with wings.  The perfect metaphor for someone with Autism.  Turning the ordinary, into extraordinary.  I really tried my best to hand paint 12 of those puzzle butterflies, but as it turned out each one took me 2 hours to complete.  So, here I had six butterflies left and no design planned for them, until it hit me…little hand prints.  Despite the challenges that a parent goes through with their Autistic child, that child will always be loved unconditionally and their innocence stays with them forever.  The cookie with the saying “Always Unique, Totally Interesting, Sometimes Mysterious”, is a saying I once saw on a plaque.  I find it very fitting, when describing someone with Autism.  It is those specific qualities that make them special.  The logo cookie represents Autism York.  The ribbon is in support of Autism Awareness.  The puzzle cookies have “Educate, Advocate, Support” written on them, with some added sparkle (AKA Disco Dust).  The heart puzzle cookie with a keyhole in the center was inspired by a T-shirt that read, “You have the key to unlock the mystery of Autism”.  

As an added bonus to raise some extra money, I made some of my chewy chocolate chip cookies with pretty Autism ribbon tied around the bags.  I also made cut out sugar cookie puzzles with sanded sugar.  For this cookie, I cut out the dough with a puzzle cutter and a mini heart cutter.  While still having the dough stuck inside of the heart cutter, I sprinkled colored sugar on it before removing the cutter.  I then placed the sanded mini heart on top of the puzzle and sprinkled a different color of sanding sugar around the puzzle piece of dough.  Off to the oven they went to bake for 5 minutes!!!  

I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience with Autism and the way I support the cause through my love of cookies.  Please do your best to help others with Autism by supporting, advocating and educating.  If you have a local Autism support group, find out how you can give your time or donate money to help with their resources.  The more we know, the more acceptance we have for Autism.
Thank you Kim from The Cookie Puzzle, for letting me share my experience and my cookies!!!
Autism Rocks!
(and rolls and spins and flaps and loves and laughs)


  1. Rebekah what a beautiful post! Thank you so much for sharing your story and educating those of us who honestly have no idea. Your cookies are amazing as usual :)

  2. Your story is inspiring! =)
    I love your cookies and dedication to supporting Autism Awareness.

    My Son is mildly Autistic, and it warms my heart to see such awesome Autism support!

    Melissa =)


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