Matt loves working at his family’s bakery. The 31 year old helps prepare biscotti and makes deliveries around town. In his spare time, he volunteers at an art museum, plays songs on the keyboard, and enjoys game nights with his neighbors at his apartment building.
This life is much different from what his parents were told to expect three decades ago, when Matt was formally diagnosed with autism.
“Rob and I were told to love, accept and plan to institutionalize him,” recalls his mom, Denise Resnik. “And we found that wholly unacceptable.”
Denise forged a different path with their son. She co-founded the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) in 1997 to support individuals with autism and their families, and founded First Place AZ a “sister” nonprofit in 2012, focused on community and residential development.
Nearly five years ago, Matt moved into First Place–Phoenix, an independent living community equipping people with neurodiversity in Phoenix to live on their own.
“Instead of being at home alone, residents are finding their neighbors, making friends and learning the joy of living more independently as part of this community and within the Phoenix urban area,” Denise explained.
Together with Matt, Denise and Rob founded a bakery shortly after Matt’s high school graduation 10 years ago. SMILE Biscotti, which stands for Supporting My Independent Living Enterprise, allows Matt to work side-by-side with family members, friends and coworkers to build his skills.
“SMILE has been teaching Matt and helping us all appreciate the care and feeding required for a very small business designed to help people build skills toward greater independence,” Denise shared.
Matt is proud of SMILE’s popular flavors.
“Double chocolate and cinnamon vanilla,” Matt explains, is one of the most popular flavors, and he is working on a new seasonal holiday special while shipping orders across the country.
Lately, Matt has hailed Waymo One, an autonomous ride-hailing service operating in Phoenix, to deliver biscotti to SMILE’s local retail clients. With Waymo, Matt can get around Phoenix independently without relying on any other person to drive him.
“Matt is packaging biscotti, he is delivering biscotti, he is learning how to navigate transportation, and for the first time in his life, is able to learn how to do this more independently,” Denise said of Waymo One.
Matt is packaging biscotti, he is delivering biscotti, he is learning how to navigate transportation, and for the first time in his life, is able to learn how to do this more independently.
Waymo and its app are designed with carefully crafted accessibility features such as audio and visual cues designed in close consultation with disability advocates. A passenger screen lets riders see where they are on their route, as well as what the vehicle sees with its perception system.
Waymo’s technology is also designed to follow road rules, never speed, and drive with the safety of passengers and other road users as a foundational tenet of driving.
With Waymo One’s accessible mobile app, consistent rider experience, and focus on safety, Denise said Matt feels comfortable hailing and riding in a Waymo.
“Matt is very visual and process oriented, so learning the process of hailing a Waymo actually came quite easily to him,” Denise recalled, adding that Matt loved opening the door and having Waymo greet him by name. “He found great comfort in the beauty and the comfort of the vehicle itself.”
Denise said she also enjoys riding in a Waymo.
“I've taken Waymo many times. My anxiety is far less than when a human is driving,” shared Denise. “The intuitive navigation and safety features of Waymo are impressive.”
Matt takes Waymo to deliver biscotti to clients like Duck and Decanter, a beloved family-owned-and-operated restaurant and fresh market with a 50-year history in Phoenix.
“We were one of SMILE Biscotti's first customers,” said Karen, a family friend and owner of Duck and Decanter who has known Matt and his family for decades. Karen said that working with SMILE Biscotti and Matt inspires a more mindful, kind way of doing business.
“That's the exciting part of working with the neurodiverse [community], because I think it's bringing all of us to the edge of our comfort zone in terms of learning something new,” Karen shared. “If you want the world to be a better place, you have to start with your own home.”
That's the exciting part of working with the neurodiverse [community], because I think it's bringing all of us to the edge of our comfort zone in terms of learning something new. If you want the world to be a better place, you have to start with your own home.
Denise said that the world is a better place for her and her family already, thanks to the Phoenix community.
“As a mother of a man with special needs, I thought that I would forever have to be planning those dates and serve as the wheels to get him where he's going,” Denise said. “We are learning through First Place, this supportive community and Waymo, that we can all do this together.”