Published in Forbes on February 22, 2022 by Jennifer "Jay" Palumb In December of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its biennial update of autism's estimated prevalence among the nation's children. It was based on the active surveillance across 11 monitoring sites in the United States for 8-year-old and 4-year-old children in 2018. The new report showed an increase in prevalence with 1 in 44 children or about 2.3% of 8-year-old children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in 2018. Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication challenges. As they age, those with autism have lower employment rates and higher social isolation rates than people with other disabilities.
Mishka Sibert, the older sister of an autistic individual, Samko, who is non-verbal, felt these concerns. "My mother especially worries about Samko's future, and no possibility for employment due to his disability and high dependency led me to create a unique role and business model." Siblings Celebrating Autism The idea for a business began in 2016 when Sibert decided to sell t-shirts with her brother's art. Then, they officially launched Happy Autism in 2020 around the beginning of the pandemic to try and spread joy, positivity, and messages full of hope in such challenging times that they knew would be even more challenging for autism families. "I decided to step up as both his sister and as an advocate," said Sibert. "Samko, who is nine years younger, plays an important role as a Creative Director making creative decisions in our business earning money and reaching higher independence." Using different kinds of tonality and emotional expression, Samko employs gestures, facial expressions, and body language to communicate his feelings, needs, desires, and opinions in his role.
In 2012, a study entitled The Experiences of Individuals with a Sibling Diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder by the School of Social Work at SOPHIA indicated that participants have very close sibling relationships with their sibling diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Most participants responded that their sibling on the autism spectrum impacted their career choice. In addition, all of the participants believed that their sibling improved their pro-social behavior making them more compassionate and understanding of other peoples' differences. This seems to be the case for Sibert and her brother.
"Early on, I ditched the role of caregiver and made my brother into Creative Director so he could step up and reach higher independence and support me with his creative leadership, emotional support, and let him take responsibility for his own actions and role," Sibert said. "So for me, it's more about the mindset and behavioral shift that helped both of us create a healthy balance and prevent caregiver burnout that I have experienced in the past due to my 'sacrifice mindset,' as I call it."
In addition to selling merchandise, they offer workshops, one-on-one coaching, and summits for parents of autistic children on how to create an empowering environment for kids and adults on the spectrum so they can reach their potential and own version of their happy autism success.
The Future For Happy Autism Happy Autism embodies the idea of seeing the ability in disability and collectively creating a happy future for people with autism," explained Sibert. "For schools, businesses, and companies to see abilities in people with autism and reinforce the gold that is already within them so they can achieve their version of happy autism success. My brother's voice is equally important as mine, and as a sibling, my needs are equally important as his. That's the core of the healthy dynamic and relationship that can advocate together."
Autistic Individuals have an 85% chance of being unemployed. However, Sibert hopes their business helps support her brother's career and becomes a corporate footprint for others.
"Within our business, I have created multiple streams of income and continue to do so," said Sibert. "My goal is to teach this model and mindset behind this business to other companies, families, and schools so autistic abilities are not only seen, implemented in a workplace and businesses but also celebrated. If my brother and I could do it, everyone can if they believe it and take consistent action to make it happen!"
When asked about Happy Autism's goals for the future, Sibert responded, "When I asked Samko this question, he smiled. Together we want to get more opportunities for advocacy, empowerment, a celebration of autistic ability, and wins for both autistics and their siblings."