John Donvan and Caren Zucker, award-winning journalists and authors of New York Times-best seller, In a Different Key—The Story of Autism, spent four days in Phoenix this month filming a segment for PBS NewsHour. Their focus is on transitioning adolescents and adults with autism, featuring students from the First Place Transition Academy operated by SARRC.

Here are photos taken by Stephen G. Dreiseszun, Viewpoint Photographers, and Sydnee Schwartz, ASU Cronkite journalism student, who were shooting the shoot. We’ll keep you posted on when the story airs!

PBS NewsHour has aired two stories about Greater Phoenix’s supportive community for individuals with autism, featuring First Place AZ, SARRC, and SMILE Biscotti.

WHAT: PBS NewsHour’s “A Place in the World”

WHEN: Segments aired during the 6 p.m. MST broadcast on Tuesday, August 9 and Wednesday, August 10

WHERE: PBS Ch. 8 Phoenix

John Donvan and Caren Zucker, award-winning journalists and authors of New York Times-best seller, In a Different Key—The Story of Autism, produced the segments.

Giving adults with autism the skills to build independent lives

PBS NewsHour Segment - Giving adults with autism the skills to build independent lives

How Phoenix became the most autism-friendly city in the world

 How Phoenix became the most autism-friendly city in the world

Photos taken by Stephen G. Dreiseszun, Viewpoint Photographers, and Sydnee Schwartz, ASU Cronkite journalism student, who were shooting the shoot.

PBS NewsHour Social Media:


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By Denise Resnik, Matt’s mom; originally posted on Different Brains

I’ve never been to Forest, Mississippi, and probably never will.  However, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for this 6,000-person community after learning about Donald Triplett, the first person diagnosed with autism.

I first read about Donald in the Atlantic Monthly and never grow tired of hearing how his parents overcame obstacles, how they refused the recommended institutionalization and ensured their son would attend school and work.  I continue to marvel at how the community embraced Donald’s quirkiness, celebrating his special abilities and turning stories into legends.

Thanks to the community of Forest, Donald has enjoyed a very full life.  Today, at the age of 82, he is happy, in good health, lives in his own home, drives his own car and has played golf every day since retiring from his career working at the community bank. In Forest, “no one messes with Donald,” according to New York Times-best selling authors of “In A Different Key – The Story of Autism.”

The stories of Donald, Forest and the history of autism were brought to life by award-winning journalists and dynamic duo, Caren Zucker and John Donvan, who traveled to Phoenix last month and also experienced the supportive community we’ve been building in the nation’s sixth largest metropolitan area.

Whether in a small town in Mississippi or within a 4.3 million-person metropolis, communities are built one person and friend at a time.  Communities make dreams possible, help us overcome obstacles and quiet our fears.

Consider the community of bus riders that overcame a bully attempting to get in the face of a young man with autism (read the story here).

Or the community of nonprofits that have embraced SARRC’s CommunityWorks® program, where teens with autism and neuro-typical peers volunteer, learn new skills, build their resumes, make new friends and demonstrate that individuals with autism have much to give.

Or the community of public policy officials, professionals, business leaders and philanthropists who attend SARRC’s Annual Community Breakfast, learning the latest about autism, experiencing impact, and inspiring people to give, get involved and lead.  We’ll be hosting our 18th breakfast April 27, and expect to be joined by 1,600 extraordinary community members.

Or consider the community of SMILE Biscotti lovers who enthusiastically express their support for Matt’s seasonal specials, including March’s new flavor, Mocha Magic!

It just takes one.  One friend, one job, one sale, one advocate–each with the potential of opening a new world of possibilities for individuals with autism and their families. Consider the impact when that one is you, as conveyed in this powerful and poignant animated film produced by SARRC, Peter H. Reynolds and FableVision.

It’s a piece for all times and people of all ages.

As we prepare for April and celebrate another Autism Awareness Month, ask yourself what you can do to change someone’s world—one act of courage, kindness or business transaction at a time.

“To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

By Denise Resnik, Matt’s mom; originally posted on Different Brains

Cleaning out closets, drawers and the garage seemed like a good plan for ringing in the New Year. Matt’s closets took the longest. The biggest challenge: parting with the cue cards, flashcards, Velcro-backed picture cards and all kinds of games, systems and tools that have helped Matt learn, communicate and advocate for himself.

Still significantly impacted by his autism, Matt’s perseverance and our own have empowered him to learn, connect and enjoy the benefits of a job well done. In 2013, Matt launched SMILE Biscotti®, his Phoenix-based baking business in 2013, to further his independence.  It has done much more than that already! SMILE reflects daily how the early intervention and many efforts through the years have paid off.  While completing over 100 holiday orders late last year, we saw new evidence of Matt’s supervisory skills, as he modeled for co-workers how to more efficiently package their biscotti, quietly correcting a few of their mistakes along the way.

Community building is something we’ve been demonstrating in Greater Phoenix for nearly two decades through SARRC®, and now First Place AZ®. For us, community speaks broadly to embrace differences and celebrate diversity; involving our neighborhoods and schools, places of work and worship, health and wellness centers, and creation of new home options.I also paused to reflect on our unexpected life’s journey while reading the newly released historical account on autism, “In a Different Key,” written by  journalists John Donvan and Caren Zucker. Powerfully written, informative and captivating, the book evokes the many struggles, triumphs and chapters of our life with Matt, which were shared by the pioneers in the field and those who have joined the fight since his diagnosis.  Caren is a fellow mother on a mission who reinforces, “how good a life can be when your community embraces you!.”

SMILE Biscotti’s success is a beautiful example of how a community has embraced Matt and his coworkers. Also noteworthy is the community they’ve built together, connecting through teamwork, common interests like “Uno” breaks and shared satisfaction of a job well done. These young adults and hope are the most important ingredients in SMILE Biscotti.

I’ve clung tightly to my hope. Hope that the California doctor who confirmed Matt’s diagnosis was wrong when he said, “love, accept and plan to institutionalize him.” Hope that his epileptic seizures could be controlled and not stand in the way of greater independence. Hope that he would find a community where he can live successfully and happily with friends and away from our family home.

What I didn’t find in our closets or in those three-ring, four-inch binders documenting Matt’s history was a roadmap that would predict his future — something I longed for during those early years. I wanted someone, anyone to tell me it was going to be OK, that he was going to be fine, as would our entire family. Instead, we created our own hope and dreams together with other parents, family members and a supportive community who wanted the same outcomes.  And together, we are moving mountains.

Excited to share more in the year ahead about the expansion of SMILE Biscotti, groundbreaking of First Place-Phoenix, a new residential model for adults with autism and other special abilities, and more community building, big dreams and history in the making.  Onward!