A knot-ty way to fight autism

A pretzel from the Philly Soft Pretzel Factory is always a treat.

During April, however, if you swing by the Philly Soft Pretzel Factory at 3377 Aramingo Ave., you’ll not only get yourself a tasty snack, you’ll also do something sweet for those who suffer from autism.

Autism is a neurobiological disorder that, according to figures recently released by the Centers for Disease Control, affects about one in 88 children.

April is Autism Awareness Month, and at owner Steve Miele’s pretzel shop, the proceeds from every pretzel ribbon sold this month will go toward organizations that help children diagnosed with autism.

Every October, he said in an interview, the store sells pretzels in the shape of ribbons, in support of breast cancer awareness.

But, Miele has a neighbor who has autistic children and, to help them, he supported a benefit they held a few years back.

“I got involved with that, and then I got this idea,” he said.

Two employees in his store have children who have been diagnosed with autism, he said, and Miele wanted to do more to support programs that help raise awareness of the developmental disorder.

Two years ago he started the idea, and continuing this month, for $1 apiece, the store sells pretzels in the shape of ribbons and puts stickers on the wall for every pretzel sold.

At the end of the month, all proceeds from the pretzels will go to organizations that work with autistic children, he said.

In past years, he said, he’s collected more than $1,000 in the month, and he’s spread the donations around to several groups, including Autism Speaks — the nation’s largest autism advocacy organization.

“I realized just how many people this affects,” he said. “Even now, people will stop me on the street — people I never met before — just to thank us for doing this.”

As he walked around his shop, Miele pointed to the blue and white papers that the store hangs up for every person who buys a pretzel to support autism awareness.

Already a number of the papers line the wall.

“Last year, that whole window was blue,” he said. “It’s kind of a neat thing.”

Employee Blanca Tovar, who has an autistic son, likes that her boss supports efforts to raise autism awareness.

“People don’t know what it is,” said Tovar, whose 11-year-old son, Ameon, was diagnosed with autism when he was 7.

Tovar, who lives on Aramingo Avenue, thinks if her son could communicate his thoughts on autism he’d say something like: “I have a hard way of expressing myself and this is how I am doing that.”

Her son sometimes will sit in an office chair and spin for hours on end, she said. He’s obsessed with bugs — he even owns a tarantula — and when he smells something, he’s insistent on finding out where it’s coming from, no matter what else is going on.

“He’ll be obsessive. If he likes something, he needs to know everything about it…He’s a puzzle kid. He loves puzzles,” she said. “The big thing, I think, is patience…you have to be willing to get into their life.”

Tovar said Miele is very understanding about her son’s disorder and he’s even allowed her to leave early to take care of her son.

“I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t working here,” she said. “He really understands… When we donated the money last year, I was crying. No one cares about the puzzle kids. But he understands.” ••

Star managing editor Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215–354–3124 or hmitman@bsmphilly.com

Do the twist . . .

The Philadelphia Soft Pretzel Factory, at 3377 Aramingo Ave., is selling ribbon-shaped pretzels for $1 this month. All of the proceeds will go to causes that support autism awareness.

If you can’t make it to this store, on National Pretzel Day, April 26, all Philly Soft Pretzel Factory locations will give out a free pretzel to every customer throughout the day.

The Philly Soft Pretzel Factory will be on the CBS TV series Undercover Boss. The show will air on Friday, April 27. ull;•