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Big Easy™ Cafe by Ernie Els Thanksgiving Cookie Platter

The Big Easy™ Cafe by Ernie Els is here to make your Thanksgiving holiday extra sweet by offering a special Thanksgiving Cookie Platter.

All our gourmet cookies are organic and homemade. Purchase now by visiting our Toast account and then click “November Specials.”

Orders must be placed by Wednesday, November 15. When placing your order, you will select a pickup window (either on Monday, November 20 or Tuesday, November 21).

Platters cost $36.95 each and will all be packed with love by the adults in our Adult Day Training Program.

Here is the list of the cookies with ingredients.

White Chocolate/Cranberry/Oatmeal Cookies

Flour, Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Salt, Gluten Free Oats, Pecans, Dreid Cranberries, White Chocolate, Butter, Dark Brown Sugar, Eggs, Vanilla Extract

Cranberry Orange Shortbread

Dried Cranberries, Sugar, Flour, Butter, Almond Extract, Orange Zest, Orange Juice,

Pumpkin Cake Cookies

Flour, Ginger, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Salt, Butter, Dark Brown Sugar, Organic Pumpkin Puree, Vanilla Extract

Lemon Almond Biscotti

Almonds, Flour, Baking Powder, Salt, Eggs, Sugar, Butter, Lemon Juice & Zest Almond & Vanilla Extract

Monster Cookies

Flour, Baking Powder, Salt, Gluten-Free Oats, Butter, Dark Brown Sugar, White Sugar, Eggs, Vanilla Extract, Pecans, M&M’s


Graham Cracker Crumbs, Butter, Brown Sugar, Salt, Cream Cheese, Organic Pumpkin Puree, Sugar, Vanilla Extract, Eggs, Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, Powdered Sugar, Heavy Cream

Research conducted at The Els Center of Excellence® Reveals ASPECTSS®-Based Design’s Impact on Autism School Environments

Els for Autism® is thrilled to announce the publication of a groundbreaking research study conducted at The Els Center of Excellence®. The study, titled “The Impact of ASPECTSS®-Based Design Intervention in Autism School Design: A Case Study,” has been published in the prestigious Q1 International Journal of Architectural Research.

This work is one of the first studies globally to measure the impact of ASPECTSS®-informed intervention on autism school design.

Dr. Marlene Sotelo, Executive Director of Els for Autism, emphasizes the significance of specially designed spaces for individuals with autism to support their areas of need and maximize their areas of strength. She states, “Specialized environmental design and arrangement is essential for the success of individuals with autism in the classroom and greater school environment to promote learning and independence.”

This work was a collaboration between a team of esteemed researchers and professionals at The Els Center of Excellence and world-renowned architect Dr. Magda Mostafa. It explored the impact of ASPECTSS®-based design interventions on autism school design. ASPECTSS®, authored by and a registered trademark of Dr. Mostafa, was published in 2014. It is the world’s first research-based framework for architecture for autism and is an acronym for Acoustics, Spatial Sequencing, Escape Space, Compartmentalization, Transition, Sensory Zoning, and Safety. Together, these represent the key elements considered in designing spaces that cater to the unique needs of individuals with autism.

By implementing ASPECTSS®-based design interventions in autism school design, the research study demonstrated improvements in the overall learning experience of students with autism. The findings highlight the importance of incorporating thoughtful environmental considerations in educational facilities to support the academic, social, and emotional development of individuals on the autism spectrum.

The publication of this research study in the International Journal of Architectural Research signifies a significant step forward in advancing the field of autism education and the design of the built environment within which it is situated. Els for Autism and Magda Mostafa remain committed to sharing knowledge, promoting best practices, and advocating for inclusive educational environments that empower individuals with autism to reach their full potential.

Funding for the publication was made available through the generous support of the American University in Cairo.

New Golf Pro Shop Vocational Lab Powered by ClubsHelp Debuts at The Els Center of Excellence®

In August 2023, the Els for Autism Foundation® opened the Stoops Family Adult Services Building at The Els Center of Excellence® campus, a 21,000-square-foot purpose-built building for adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other related disabilities. The building expands programs and services for adults with ASD, including paid employment exploration and training. Some of these opportunities are within the golf industry, including both on- and off-course positions.

With the generous support of the ClubsHelp Foundation, the Els for Autism® introduces a new Golf Pro Shop vocational lab, creating opportunities for individuals with ASD to explore careers in the golf industry. ClubsHelp Foundation is a nationwide network harnessing the power of clubs and their resources.

“Through this collaboration, ClubsHelp will support and amplify the skills and talents of these individuals, using our network of clubs across the country to create employment opportunities,” said Rob Goulet, President of the ClubsHelp Foundation. “The Els for Autism staff has the experience and knowledge to train clubs on recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and retaining employees with autism. And we’ll work through human resources professionals at clubs to communicate the advantages of employing people with autism.”

The Els for Autism Work Experience program allows adults aged 18 and over who have exited the school system to engage in hands-on learning and develop skills related to employment.  Participants of the program in the new Golf Pro Shop vocational lab will learn to sort and tag merchandise, organize displays, operate point-of-sale terminals, and other retail-centric skills.

Many individuals with autism exhibit specific strength traits that allow for these positions to be a good fit for golf industry jobs. The main strengths identified from data revealed cognitive advantages, including attention to detail, creativity, focus, and memory. Additionally, individuals with ASD often thrive in repetitive tasks and inhibit personal qualities such as honesty and dedication. Jobs that require following a set of procedures and protocols are many times a good fit for someone with autism who is detail-oriented and prefers routine.

“This facility is so important for adults with autism and will help those individuals successfully transition to adulthood by providing employment services, therapeutic services, day training, recreation, and social activities,” said golf legend Ernie Els.

Els, along with his wife, Liezl, and Marvin R. Shanken, publisher and founder of M. Shanken Communications, founded the Els for Autism Foundation in 2009 following the diagnosis of the Els’ son, Ben, with ASD.

ClubsHelp Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, empowers golf clubs to become community catalysts. Originating from the generous spirit of Spring Brook Country Club in Morristown, N.J., during the COVID-19 pandemic, ClubsHelp has rapidly grown into a national initiative, receiving support from legendary golfers Jack Nicklaus and Els, as well as from some of America’s top clubs and corporations.

Uniting golf course owners, club managers, architects, and professionals to amplify clubs’ contributions to local causes and charities with a single mission: Care Locally, Unite Nationally. ClubsHelp provides clubs with tools and resources to enhance their impact within their communities and help during times of crisis. Visit or on social media at @ClubsHelp to join in transforming golf clubs into beacons of community support.

Information about Ernie Els #GameON Autism® Golf program, developed and provided by Els for Autism, can be found here

Fall Recreation Tips for Individuals with Autism

After a sweltering summer, we are all enjoying the cooler temps the fall brings us. Now that the weather is cooler, it is a great time to be outdoors and participate in recreation programs. We believe recreation can be an effective supplemental therapy for individuals with autism.

Whatever brings you to the outdoors, we hope you take advantage of the autumn season by incorporating recreational activities.

Our recreation team has some tips for staying safe while playing.

Stay Hydrated: Ensure you fuel your body with the proper nutrients and adequate amounts of water to stay active and engaged during recreation activities, especially outside activities.

Listen to your body: Pay attention to your body’s signals, such as when you might need rest, water, or are ready to move to something new.

Try it with friends: Recreation is a great way to meet new people and make friends. Participating in sports and fitness with others can help you stay motivated and make getting fit with friends so much more fun!

Make it right for you: Remember, there is always a way to modify or adapt a workout, sport, or activity to fit your needs, skill level, and interests. While this is important, ensuring proper form is crucial when performing any exercise and even more so for individuals with autism. Providing a model, whether in-person and/or via video, supports proper form and safety.

Try something new: Don’t be afraid to try a new sport or activity. You will not know if you like it until you try it. It could become your new favorite thing!

Practice, practice, practice: Remember that learning a new skill might be difficult initially, but it is essential to keep going. You’ve got this! Consistent practice will lead to progress and proficiency before you know it.

Have fun: Always remember that recreation is meant to be an enjoyable way to spend time with friends while living happy, healthy lives.

Learn more about our recreation programs & services

Stanley Black & Decker pledges $5 Million for Autism-Friendly Recreation Complex

Stanley Black & Decker, a leading global provider of tools, equipment, and services for the construction, industrial, and manufacturing industries and brand partner of World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els, has pledged $5 million over five years to support the capital campaign to build the recreation complex at The Els Center of Excellence in Jupiter, Florida.

Research proves that participation in recreational programs has shown extensive benefits for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It can reduce behavioral and emotional disorders, aid in developing social skills and forming relationships, enhance physical and mental health, and support the formation of children’s interests. Every week, Els for Autism® offers multiple recreational programs, including golf, kickball, and tennis, on The Els Center of Excellence campus to more than 100 individuals with autism.

The recreation complex will allow programming to expand by providing an indoor space during inclement weather and high temperatures. The complex will include the autism-friendly Stanley Black & Decker Gymnasium, an aquatic center, and a splash pad. Drowning is the number one cause of death for children with autism, and an aquatic center for people with autism will allow for specialized water safety and swimming instruction as part of the Ernie Els #GameON Autism® Sports Programs.

“We are thrilled to have the support of Stanley Black & Decker in building this much-needed recreation complex,” said Marlene Sotelo, BCBA-D, MT-BC, Executive Director of Els for Autism. “The gymnasium and aquatic center will provide a safe and inclusive space for individuals with autism to engage in physical activity and learn life-saving water safety skills. We are grateful for Stanley Black & Decker’s commitment to supporting the autism community and helping to transform the lives of people with autism and their families.”

In addition to the generous pledge of support for the recreation complex, Stanley Black & Decker also funded and outfitted a vocational lab in the brand-new Stoops Family Foundation Adult Services Building. The lab will be supplied with tools and equipment donated by Stanley Black & Decker to provide adults with autism training to support paid employment opportunities.

“We are proud to partner with Els for Autism in this important initiative to provide resources and support for individuals with autism and their families,” said Don Allan, President and CEO of Stanley Black & Decker. “We believe that by investing in programs like the recreation complex and vocational lab, we can help create a more inclusive and supportive society for individuals with autism and their families.”

Stanley Black & Decker is also designated as the National Sponsor of the 2023 Golf Challenge through a $125,000 contribution. In addition, President and CEO Donald Allan, who has supported the Golf Challenge since 2020, is an event Co-Chair of the regional Golf Challenge event held August 7 in Hartford, Connecticut, at the Wethersfield Country Club.

“The partnership between Stanley Black & Decker and Els for Autism is remarkable. It is a joy to collaborate with the SBD team and their network of supporters, all of whom demonstrate an understanding of the need to transform the lives of people with autism and those who care for them,” said Paige Thomas, Director of Events at Els for Autism.

The Els Center of Excellence is a world-class facility that provides education, therapy, research, recreation, and adult services for individuals with autism and their families. The capital campaign to build the recreation complex is a more significant effort to expand and enhance the facility’s programs and services.

Thanksgiving Social Narrative

With the fall season come social gatherings and traditions many look forward to every year. However, these events can also present unique challenges for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), from routine disruptions to noisy gatherings. That’s why Els for Autism Foundation® remains committed to providing you with information on best practices and guidance to ensure your holiday season is filled with happiness and memorable moments.

We have created a Thanksgiving Social Narrative to work on with your child before the holiday.

Els for Autism Foundation® Celebrates National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month 

Jupiter, Fla. – October marks National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the talents and contributions of individuals with disabilities in the workforce. Els for Autism® is proud to be at the forefront of this movement by providing essential support and employment opportunities for adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disorders through programs & services, initiatives, and partnerships.  

Less than half of young adults with ASD are employed despite having the knowledge and abilities necessary for success in the workplace. (Source: Solomon, C. Autism and Employment: Implications for Employers and Adults with ASD.) 

Employers often find individuals with ASD and other developmental disabilities to be exceptionally dedicated, excelling in attendance, punctuality, job tenure, and following workplace policies. Furthermore, companies that actively employ individuals with disabilities report impressive statistics, including an 89% higher retention rate, a 72% increase in employee productivity, and a 29% increase in profitability. 

In August, Els for Autism opened the Stoops Family Adult Services Building on The Els Center of Excellence® 26-acre campus. This 21,000-square-foot purpose-built building features several vocational labs designed to equip individuals with the necessary skills to obtain employment. These vocational labs include the Stanley Black & Decker Lab, the Big Easy™ Cafe by Ernie Els, and the Sea of Possibilities microbusiness. With the opening of our adult services building, we are providing more employment opportunities to adults with ASD. Discover how to support adults seeking employment, including the opportunity to name our grocery store or retail shop. 

While our team equips autistic adults with employment skills on our campus, our Employment Programs help adults secure employment within the community while helping employers fill needed positions. Our Work Experience program offers services that encompass developing self-advocacy and employability skills, assisting with job development, providing job leads, aiding in the interview process, and supporting job retention. Job coaching is offered before, during, and following placement in paid employment. Employers are invited to become a Work Experience Program Partner. 

In addition to our Employment Programs, Els for Autism is thrilled to introduce our newest initiative,
U Can Employ™. This groundbreaking program provides direct training, support, and consultation to both large and small companies interested in recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and retaining employees with ASD. Marlene Sotelo, BCBA-D, MT-BC, Executive Director of Els for Autism, stated, “Through the U Can Employ initiative, we aim to increase employment opportunities for individuals with ASD by providing the necessary training, consultation, and support to companies looking to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce.”  

The Big Easy™ Cafe by Ernie Els

The Big Easy™ Cafe by Ernie Els is another way the Els for Autism Foundation® is transforming the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Located inside the Stoops Family Adult Services Building at The Els Center of Excellence®, our cafe offers homemade breakfast and lunch options for employees, students, clients, and guests on our campus under the direction of Jen and Brian Wilson.

The dynamic duo is well-known in the community for their succulent cuisine. They have developed the cafe’s menu to focus on a brain and gut-friendly diet by serving gluten-free, dairy-free, and low-sugar-style foods with other delicious selections.

However, the Big Easy Cafe is more than just a cafe; it is a vocational lab where adults with autism and related disabilities acquire essential skills for excelling in the food industry! Our cafe also provides specialized culinary workshops designed to cater to individuals with ASD and their families within our community, both live and online.

We are a closed campus; however, if you are on campus to drop off or pick up your child, we hope you will stop in to our cafe inside the Stoops Family Adult Services Building to enjoy some homemade happiness. Pre-order your items on Toast.

Creating a Spooktacular Trick or Treat with AAC Boards and Sensory-Friendly Costumes

For individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) or require sensory-friendly accommodations, here are some tips and tricks to ensure this festive occasion is a safe and enjoyable spooktacular Halloween experience for everyone involved.

Communicating with AAC or Visual Aids

1. Preparation is Key

Before heading out for trick or treating, ensure the AAC device is fully charged and properly working. Have backup batteries on hand, just in case. If using visual aids, ensure they are printed and ready to go.

2. Customize Vocabulary

Tailor the AAC device’s vocabulary for Halloween-specific phrases and expressions. Include phrases like “Trick or Treat,” “Thank you,” and “Happy Halloween!”

3. Practice with Play

Engage in role-playing scenarios at home to help your child become comfortable saying or using their AAC device to communicate trick-or-treating phrases. Encourage them to initiate interactions with neighbors and practice beforehand.

5. Be Patient and Supportive

Allow extra time for communication, be patient, and offer encouragement when your child uses their AAC device or visual aid. Praise their efforts to build confidence.

Sensory-Friendly Costumes

1. Comfortable Fabrics

Opt for costumes made from soft, breathable fabrics to minimize discomfort. Avoid itchy materials that may irritate.

2. Seamless Seams

Choose costumes with minimal seams or rough edges to reduce sensory sensitivities. Consider inside-out costumes for a smoother feel against the skin.

3. Adjustable Fasteners

Opt for costumes with adjustable closures like Velcro or snaps rather than tight-fitting elastic or buttons. This allows for a custom fit and can help prevent discomfort.

4. Sensory-Friendly Accessories

Incorporate sensory-friendly accessories like fidget toys or chewable necklaces into the costume. These can provide comfort and serve as a soothing distraction.

5. Open-Faced Masks

Consider face paint or masks that leave the eyes and mouth area open. This allows for better airflow and reduces feelings of confinement.

Remember, Halloween is a time for fun and inclusivity. By implementing these tips, you can create a memorable experience for children of all abilities. Happy Halloween!

For additional resources and ideas on AAC communication and sensory-friendly costumes, check out organizations like PrAACtically AAC and The Marcus Autism Center.

Pumpkin Spice Recipes

We are jumping on the pumpkin spice train to celebrate the Big Easy™ Cafe by Ernie Els (Toast Link) opening inside the Stoops Family Adult Services Building. Cafe Manager Jen Wilson has four pumpkin-spice treats to make with your family and friends.

Ginger Snap Parfaits

At our house, we love the fall and mixing our favorite pumpkin pecan butter (often a bit too sweet) with non-dairy plain yogurt or plain Greek yogurt. Layering this pumpkin yogurt mixture with plain yogurt and homemade gingersnaps is often the perfect combination of creamy, crunchy, and delicious!

¾ Cup Butter
1 Cup Sugar
1 Egg
2 Cups Flour
½ Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Cinnamon
½ Tsp Ground Ginger
1/3 Cup Molasses
2 Tsp Baking Soda


  1. Cream Butter and sugar
  2. Add Egg and mix
  3. Add dry ingredients and stir
  4. Heat molasses, add soda, and stir
  5. Add to Flour mixture and stir
  6. Roll dough into small balls and space out evenly on a buttered cookie sheet
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes
  8. Remove from pan carefully and cool on a rack or paper towels

Pumpkin Cheese Roll

We make this every year on Thanksgiving, and there’s never a single bite left. It packs just as much pumpkin love as a pumpkin pie, but the cream cheese icing swirled into the middle with the spongy-style cake makes it absolutely irresistible.

Ingredients For the Cake
¾ Cup Flour
1 Tsp Baking Powder
2 Tsp Cinnamon
1 Tsp Ginger
½ Tsp Nutmeg
½ Tsp Salt
3 Eggs
1 Cup Sugar
2/3 Cup Canned Pumpkin

Ingredients For the Filling
1 Cup Confectioners’ Sugar
8 Oz Cream Cheese
1/2 Cup Softened Butter
1 Tsp Vanilla


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 15x10x1 pan. Line the pan with waxed paper and butter and flour the paper, as well.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients (flour to salt)
  3. Beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl until thick and fluffy, and add pumpkin.
  4. Stir in dry ingredient mixture
  5. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly with a rubber spatula
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes or until springy and cooked
  7. Loosen the cake around the edges when you remove it from the oven. Invert it onto a clean paper towel, dusted with confectioners’ sugar. (This will help the cake not to stick.)
  8. Peel off the wax paper and trim the edges about ¼”
  9. Roll up the cake from the short side and cool with the seam side down. This helps so that when you fill it, it holds its shape
  10. Whip up the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and sugar in an electric mixer
  11. Unroll the cake, spread it with the cream cheese filling, re-roll it, and refrigerate

Pumpkin Bread

Someone in our family is always making this recipe and giving the other loaf to a friend or family member who’s had a tough week or needs extra holiday love. These loaves freeze beautifully and also make excellent pumpkin bread pudding, which we frequently enjoy with vanilla ice cream or, if you’re a non-dairy person, our new favorite, Oatly Vanilla.

1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Brown Sugar
¾ Cup Vegetable Oil
¼ Cup Butter
3 Large Eggs, Slightly Beaten
16oz Canned Pumpkin
3 Cups Flour
½ Tsp Ground Cloves
1 ½ Tsp Cinnamon
1 ½ Tsp Nutmeg
¾ Tsp Ginger
1 Tsp Baking Soda
½ Tsp salt
1 ½ Tsp Baking Powder
1 Cup Raisins
1 Cup Chopped Walnuts (Optional)


  1. Beat Sugars, oil, and softened butter to blend
  2. Mix in eggs and pumpkin.
  3. In a large bowl, mix flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking soda, salt, and baking powder
  4. Stir in pumpkin mixture in two additions.
  5. Mix in nuts and/or raisins if desired.
  6. Pour batter into two greased loaf pans and bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Pumpkin Pie Hummus

Pumpkin hummus is a healthy and slightly sweet way to get a little bit of protein into your day, but it can be a bit sinful at the same time. It’s delicious spread on a gingersnap or a carrot chip, and its creamy consistency is a winner with everyone in our house!

16 oz Chickpeas
8 oz Organic Pumpkin Puree
2 oz Vegetable Oil
1 Tbsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1 ½ Tblsp Agave
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
Pinch of Salt


  1. Rinse and drain the chickpeas
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the chickpeas, pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, agave, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt.
  3. Process the ingredients until smooth and creamy in consistency. Adjust with some oil or water if necessary, and season to taste.


Thank you, Jen, for your fabulous fall recipes. We are a closed campus; however, if you are on our campus, stop in for our cafe for some homemade happiness (menu)!