When Stella Spanakos co-founded a T-shirt company that would be staffed by employees with autism, her son and Andrew King, who had attended Munsey Park Elementary School together, were two of the first employees.
Now, the company has more than 20 employees with autism and serves clients that include Uber and Northwell. Andrew King, now 24, still works at the company, Spectrum Designs.
On July 25, the King family will be honored at Spectrum Designs Foundation’s and Nicholas Center’s annual Night in White Gala.
“We’re extremely grateful to the people – the employees, the staff members, everyone that works so hard at Spectrum because our son, he just has an amazing life,” King said. “He’s just so happy there.”
Andrew does assembly-line style work at the Port Washington-based company, which is perfect for his focused personality, his mother said. If something needs to be completed quickly, Andrew is often pulled in to help complete the project because he’s quick and has a reputation of a strong work ethic, she said.
“Even if I happen to walk in he’ll say ‘hi mom’ but he’ll keep his eyes on what he’s doing,” she said.
Spectrum Design’s mission is to offer people with autism an opportunity to work. It started in 2011 in Spanakos’ barn as a partnership with Port Washington’s Nicholas Center, a nonprofit that supports individuals with autism.
In 2012 the company and nonprofit were able to purchase a 500-square-foot building to house their efforts and just a year later, moved to a space triple that size.
Now, Spectrum Designs has its own location on Port Washington’s Main Street and has made millions of dollars in sales.
“Eight years ago, after the decision was made to establish the Nicholas Center and Spectrum Designs Foundation, I spoke with Loren about my dream for our children beyond secondary school,” said Spanakos. “The rest is history. Wayne and Loren [King] are part of the foundation and have been instrumental in the growth of both organizations. We are looking forward to celebrating the King family.”
Throughout his time at Spectrum Designs, Andrew’s communication skills have grown significantly, King said.
Since he was a child, communication has been one of Andrew’s main challenges, his mother said.
“He didn’t speak until he was 4 years old and didn’t really put sentences together until he was 5 years old,” his mother said. “Language has always been a challenge with him.”
The collaborative environment he works in making T-shirts has helped him practice communication skills, and King has noticed the changes in his interactions at home.
“He’s able to ask me questions and get his needs met here,” she said.
Parents of children with autism should look for and nurture the talents and interests their child has, King said. For Andrew, that was painting, which King and her husband, Wayne, discovered in him at age 7 or 8.
“We saw that he had a talent and we just enhanced that by getting him the right teachers and art therapists over the years, so I think a parent should know that their child is a very special unique individual and they should explore what talents they have,” King said. “It may be hidden at first.”
Her whole family will be honored at the gala at the end of this month, which she said is “extremely humbling.”
“We’re so proud of Spectrum and everyone that has worked together so hard to form this organization,” King said. “It’s a total honor to be honored.”
An earlier version of this story misspelled Stella Spanakos’ last name.