The AutAcademy project was launched by a group of parents of autistic children from the Martesana area (north-east of Milan). Our main goal was to give young people with autism real training and work opportunities. This led to the idea of opening a restaurant run by autistic staff only, as well as an "academy" (i.e. a workshop) where they can be trained on how to prepare and serve food.
November 19th, 2017 was the day this once informal association of parents became PizzAut ONLUS, a non-profit organization of social utility that aims at raising public and institutional awareness of the employability of people with autism.
After being invited to speak at several conferences by important Italian universities and non-profit sector entities, PizzAut ambitiously set out to open the first pizzeria in Italy to be entirely managed by young people with autism.
PizzAut's mission is to positively affect the quality of life of people with autism, their families, and the community as a whole through education, work, and an assisted but not strictly structured rehabilitation process which allows for "active" experimentation. The objective is for people with autism to attain the highest level of social inclusion and self-sufficiency, as well as to get rid of misconceptions about autism, such as the idea of the autistic person as either a patient or a "genius". Our ultimate goal is to be able to involve autistic youth in a project where they can fulfil their potential, put their skills to the test, feel accomplished and achieve self-determination.
From the very beginning PizzAut ONLUS have known that our action and method need to revolve around work and occupation in order for our project to be successful and bring about social change.
At PizzAut ONLUS we put forward rehabilitation projects that are open to anyone affected by any form of disability or fragility, especially people with autism, in order to guide them along an educational path, as required by the institutions, but more importantly give them a shot at social and professional integration. This entails not only targeting and working on a specific problem for a limited amount of time. It means working as a network of families and creating a "life project" for an individual that takes into account their age, their life stages, and their background and environment. We want to spread a new concept of socio-sanitary and educational intervention where social integration is the key to rehabilitation. By giving people with autism a "real job", we are promoting the idea that our goal is not just to socialize them, but for them to become active and productive members of society.
When it comes to understanding the idea behind AutAcademy, it is important to realize how hard it is for people with autism and their families to find someone who can actually take up on their needs and demands, and offer feasible, inclusive solutions and projects. PizzAut ONLUS wants to be that someone.
Due to their institutional nature, the services for people with a disability in Italy tend to "standardize" needs. Those initiatives are strictly the same for everyone, and there aren't any that take into consideration each individual's needs and background. We also find that approaching autism and disability from a socio-sanitary perspective only does not take into account the individual as a whole, their will and desires, and their ability to progress when challenged with a new task or a job. This is why we decided to apply for this grant. We want to be able to provide people with autism with real places, opportunities, and answers to their needs, which would otherwise remain unmet. Employment and training for a job are crucial topics for families, especially when their kids complete their studies only to realize that they cannot find an occupation.
According to ANFFAS (the Italian association of families of children with intellectual and/or relational disabilities), 82% of disabled people are unemployed, but the percentage rises up to 94% in the case of people with autism.