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Is There a Perfect Cup of Coffee? Thoughts on Neurodiverse Acceptance

Updated: Apr 7

By Karen Kaplan, MS

“When you meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,” once said Dr. Stephen Shore, author, speaker, teacher, and an individual on the spectrum.

Well, today, it conjured up, in my mind, a simple analogy as I made observations of coffee lovers lined up for their unique cup of coffee.

I noticed how the line of unique coffee drinkers went outside the door of my neighborhood coffee house. I saw how everyone had a different idea of what made up the perfect cup of coffee.

Just black, please, said the first person in line. Mine, slow dripped, please, requested the next. One shot of expresso, Dharma-blend, the next professed. Then, an older woman explained she liked hers with more foam on the top. The next wanted two shots of expresso in his. Then a lovely young gal asked for hers with light foam, and another wanted a mocha. Behind them, a person requested an extra hot latte, and another ordered an extra shot of expresso with his latte.

As the line started to lessen, I concluded that everyone, of course, is unique. I also realized it is ever so easy for us to accept these types of differences. We do not demand that someone consume as we might consume. Instead, we accept they may need their drink prepared differently due to their uniqueness, and so it is with those who live each day on the autism spectrum or with neurodiversity. So, I ask why we find it more difficult to accept their different needs.

Here is where I think we might start:

  • Accept that others may dress differently than we choose to.

  • Accept that people may not see a problem as we might.

  • Some may not enjoy the same type of music, films, or books.

  • People may not enjoy a party as we might. They may not be great conversationalists.

  • Interests will be different.

  • Some of our gestures and intonation patterns, and body movements may confuse and frustrate others.

  • Some sounds that bother some may not bother us.

  • Your fast-paced comments, questions, commands, and demands may not all be heard or processed by all people.

  • There may be some individuals who have no idea what your words mean.

  • Others may not know where or how to start an action, a conversation, a task

  • Some people might be stuck. New and novel could be challenging.

So, what can we do?

  • Accept who people are and where they are.

  • Stop, pause, see, listen.

  • See if you can modify—try another way.

  • Guide, teach, support.

  • Meet people where they are.

  • Join before expecting people to do it your way.

  • Remember all the differences in coffee tastes.

  • Less steam in your voice could help.

  • A simpler approach, like those who prefer a slow drip coffee.

  • Softer environments could help, like those that do best with more foam in their drink.

  • Less expresso in your commands and demands could make it easier for them.

  • More layering of small steps, like the latte fans.

  • A bit of sweetness in your approach, like mocha people.

  • For those who dislike the coffee approach, try the slower process that tea drinkers move through to get the perfect cup of tea.

The Barista’s job, our job, is to find out just how each person prefers to receive Life’s Beverage.

For free resources on managing diagnoses, mobility, and accessibility support, self-advocacy, personal rights, educational rights, occupational therapy, mental health support, schools and camps, transitioning to adulthood, job opportunities, financial planning, supporting the family/caretakers, subscribe to Exceptional Needs Today. Subscribing to our award-winning e-magazine is free, and it enables us to connect with more readers, helping us support the special needs community more effectively. We publish a new issue every quarter - delivered straight to your email.

Karen Kaplan, MS, is a native San Franciscan. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, in Speech Pathology and Audiology. She minored in Special Education and obtained her Speech Therapist and Special Education credentials in California. Karen worked as a speech therapist for both public schools and private schools for 20 years before opening her own residential and education program for students with autism spectrum disorders. She worked in credential programs at Sacramento State University as well as UC Davis and spent 20 additional years directing private schools for those with autism and similar learning challenges. Karan founded a small non-profit, Offerings, which travels globally helping other cultures understand those with developmental challenges. For seven years, she founded and facilitated an autism lecture series and resource fair in Northern California. Karen still facilitates an Autism Awesomeness event yearly, showcasing the strengths and talents of those who live on the spectrum. She is currently consulting, helping families, schools, and centers for children, teens, and adults. She has published articles to help bring ideas and strategies to families and professionals, providing hope. Karen authored Reach Me Teach Me in the early 70s and went on to publish her second book, On the Yellow Brick Road Finding Hope for Autism, in 2017. Her third book, Typing to Heaven and Back, is not about autism but about having important conversations with those we love. Be sure to connect with Karen—she is always ready to listen and think of the possibilities.

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