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N.B. coffee shop raising autism awareness celebrates 5 years in business

Aaron Nielsen had his son in mind when opened the first  Aaron’s Coffee House five years ago at a New Brunswick farmer’s market.

Makhi, 16, lives with autism and sensory processing disorder, a condition his father calls “a daily battle.” Nielsen said he and his wife wanted to open a coffee shop in order to build a safe space for Makhi to interact with others as well as create opportunities for people with similar conditions.

Aaron’s started as a pop-up coffee shop at the Salisbury farmer’s market and has since grown to include a location in Riverview as well as one in downtown Moncton.

“If anything happens to my wife and I, this is going to take care of (Makhi) financially,” Nielsen said. “And then we thought well, if we’re gonna do this for him we gotta do this for other people, too. That’s where we got the idea to hire and train other people like my son.”

Both Aaron’s locations operate out of rooms within Queen E vape shop locations.

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Nielsen calls the partnership “a great opportunity,” but the shared space presents challenges for his plans to hire employees with autism. So he’s looking to expand on his own.

“We’re contacting investors, we’re trying to get to the point where we can have our own stand-alone location,” he said.

Makhi isn’t able to work in the coffeehouse just yet, as he doesn’t feel high temperatures due to his sensory issues, which could create a safety issue, Nielsen said.

For now, Makhi makes magnets that are sold at Aaron’s and helps out where he can.

“If I need some extra cups from out back, if I need some extra milk, if there’s anything that I need, he’ll grab that for me,” Nielsen said. “Sometimes he’ll try to interact with customers but at the same time we’re not pushing him.”

Customer Brenda Richard said she appreciates the social inclusion aspect of the café.

“It’s good for community support and it helps a lot of families. I think it’s a wonderful idea,” she said.

Employee Matthew Murphy is currently in his first year of studies at the educational-support program at New Brunswick Community College.

“I plan to work in the school system helping kids with autism, Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome disorder,” he said. ‘

He said he was one of the first customers at the coffeehouse’s previous location in Salisbury.

“(Aaron) told me the reason he opened up the business and… I don’t know, it just kind of stuck with me that he was doing this for mental health and autism awareness,” Murphy said.

“I thought that was just the most amazing thing that a father could do for his kid,”

Nielsen said eventually hopes to open a life-skills centre for people with autism, with Murphy on staff.

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