Wesley Spectrum partners with Panera to help children with autism

Credit: Simin Li/Art Editor Credit: Simin Li/Art Editor

This past week the Wesley Spectrum, a local non-profit organization, began partnering with locally-owned Panera Bread stores to sell cookies with the international autism symbol on them for their “Every Cookie Counts” fundraiser. The proceeds will go directly to Wesley’s programs for autism.

The Wesley Spectrum is an organization that has reached over 5800 families and children with their services. With three locations in the Pittsburgh area, Wesley Spectrum offers several onsite and outpatient programs. Many of their programs are set to target both children and teens and some, such as their Wonderskills social skills program, have a curriculum that continues to develop and adapt to their needs as the children get older. Some of the programs benefiting from “Every Cookie Counts” are Healthy Relationship, Behavioral Health and Rehab Services, and Creative Arts.

The Healthy Relationship program is set to target transition-age youth that are starting to enter more serious friendships and relationships. It helps the students develop skills for more adult interactions, such as helping students with relationship and dating skills. It shows them different ways to handle situations like going out for a cup of coffee. Beyond just showing them skills for simple dates, Healthy Relationship also teaches them what a healthy relationship looks like.

Creative Arts is another program that will receive funding from the “Every Cookie Counts” fundraiser. This program is open to anyone with behavioral health issues. It allows participants to express themselves through various forms of art such as dancing, signing, drawing, and playing instruments. Out of this group, some participants have formed rock bands that have performed at churches, local fairs, and even Pirates games.

Wesley Spectrum does not just limit its work to children impacted by autism. It also makes an effort to reach out to parents. “We work with parents so they can take over when Wesley Spectrum isn’t there,” director of Public Policy and Strategy, Michelle Sloane explained in an interview with The Tartan. “We hope to decrease stigma and increase community awareness for autism.” She explained that early diagnosis and evaluation is important in the success rate of their programs. Many of their programs start working with children at a young age, and follow them as they grow older.

Wesley Spectrum will also be using the funds from “Every Cookie Counts” to acquire new equipment for sensory rooms. “These rooms are designed to help those that are sensitive to surroundings,” Sloane explained. The space is usually a large room with big maps, low lighting, and lighter shades of colors. There are also water bubble machines and other things that make the room a calm environment for soft talking and soothing conversations.

With programs and services that are constantly expanding to reach more and more families, Wesley Spectrum is always looking for new members and additional resources to help their cause. “We have a wide variety of services and positions both on and offsite for anyone looking to get involved. Whether it’s interacting with families and children or doing administrative work, there’s always something to do.”

Wesley Spectrum provides a large number of services to children and families in Pittsburgh, ranging from help with autism and behavioral health to education and support for families whose lives have been impacted by autism. More information about “Every Cookie Counts” and Wesley Spectrum can be found at