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  • Ysabella Canoy

Different is Beautiful



Jose was born three years after me, and I knew something about him was different. They told me that he has Autism. At the time, I had no idea what that meant or what it entailed. All I knew was that I was going to be protecting my brother for the rest of my life.

Growing up with a brother who has Autism was interesting, to say the least. Jose was born three years after me, and I knew something about him was different. My other siblings and I went to regular schools, while he had several teachers both at home and at different centers teaching him how to write, how to communicate his needs, and how to do everyday tasks. He loved watching Disney movies, and was obsessed with Thomas the Train. He would lie down on the floor and cry when he didn’t get what he wanted, jump up and down flailing his arms when he was happy, and wouldn’t respond right away when spoken to. They told me that he has autism.


At the time, I had no idea what that meant or what it entailed. All I knew was that I was going to be protecting my brother for the rest of my life.


I consider my brother lucky in a sense, because he doesn’t worry about the outside world much. He has his own world. It doesn’t bother him that people stare at him when he starts blurting out lines from movies. It doesn’t bother him that people give him angry stares because he tends to bump them when he walks. It doesn’t bother him that people think he’s weird, or that he’s incapacitated. And he has five siblings, parents and even a yaya to take care of him and protect him. I knew this wasn’t the case for so many other differently-abled individuals. I knew I had to do something. The passion that I had in me only grew stronger.


My parents wanted to put up a convenience store for Jose, since he loves organizing items whenever we’d go grocery shopping. We were thinking about doing this way in the future, when we all started moving out of the house, and it would just be my parents and Jose left. But God had a different plan. The space beside my mom’s office opened up, and we thought it would be the perfect place for the convenience store. As we talked about it more and more, we decided as a family that we wanted to put up a café instead – one where Jose could work, and people would know and learn more about his autism. This was the chance I was hoping for, to be able to raise awareness.


Our family was very lucky that so many people wanted to help out. We had a speech therapist, a school administrator, teachers, a chef, and countless friends and family who were all willing to extend a helping hand. We received calls from various organizations and schools who wanted to know more about what we were doing.


Fast forward to today, Puzzle Gourmet Store & Café has nine trainees aged 16-31, seven of them with Autism and two of them with Down Syndrome. There is always such a happy vibe surrounding the café when the trainees are at work. They are very hardworking, vibrant and genuine individuals. The customers would always ask about the PWDs and be very friendly and understanding when dealing with them. It is an amazing experience, seeing both parties learn something when they interact with each other. We’re hoping that we can help even more PWDs train for future employment, as well as encourage other businesses to do the same.


This just started as a dream for our family, for the future of our brother. We could not be more proud that we are continuously growing, and that we have become a place where families of differently-abled individuals can feel understood, and the differently-abled individuals themselves can feel safe.

Ysabella or Teacher Ciab is the General Manager of Puzzle Gourmet Store and Cafe. Through Project Inclusion, she joins other partners of Unilab Foundation in helping create a Human Resource Manual that would equip more companies in hiring Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

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