This is Chandler and he LOVES vending machines. So much so that he currently has 14,000 photos of them. And he wants more! Chandler is a resident at Glenwood , a nonprofit that helps people of all ages on the autism spectrum, from early childhood diagnosis and through their adult lives.
When he was very young, Chandler was non-verbal. His parents say when they left grocery stores, he would have meltdowns. He would cry and cry and he couldn’t communicate why he was upset. Then one day they realized what he wanted. “We realized it was something about these machines,” says Chandler’s father, Raymond. “He wanted to go look at it.”
And ever since then, Chandler has been seeking out vending machines. Since becoming verbal, he’s been able to communicate more of what he wants and likes about the machines. He loves the graphics, the logos, the button types. He loves drink machines specifically, but he, himself, has never cared for drinking soda.
He wants to see as many as he can and visit them to take their photo. Right now, his collection includes more than 14,000 pictures. He gets these photos either by visiting the vending machines personally, or by asking others to take photos and send them to him. In his free time, he likes to research locations and pinpoint exactly where unseen vending machines are. And if you ask him about where one is, he will remember and tell you.
“He has the most amazing memory of anyone I’ve ever known,” says his father. “He’s running a business, a research project without even realizing it. He’s collecting data and he wants more. I’ve heard him talk to the administrators of universities, tell them who he is, what he’s doing, and get them to walk down the hall and get him pictures of vending machines. He researches and this is how he connects with people. It’s his connection to the world… If I had his photographic memory and his ability to negotiate, I’d be famous. And to think he couldn’t express this to anyone for such a long time. And now with the work of professionals, he can.”
When Chandler visits his father, they go on trips to document vending machines. Chandler will find a location and plan where they will go. Sometimes it takes them on car trips around 2.5 hours just to see one. It’s become a connection they share. Raymond says, “Some parents are hockey parents and they drive their kids all around the country for hockey games. I take my son to go see vending machines!”
Chandler has received kindness from so many strangers. Hospital administrators have walked from through buildings so that he can collect photos, employees and business owners have talked to him on the phone and sent him vending machine photos.
It hasn’t all been a fun and easy journey, though. When Chandler was younger, he was receiving 40 hours a week of in-home therapy. Unfortunately, it was not what was needed in his particular case.
“We were a family in crisis. He was really acting out. Behaviorally it was unbelievable,” Raymond says. “We were very proactive. We did everything [before Chandler came to Glenwood].”
“We were in a very dark place. I promise you we could not have this conversation if it was not for Glenwood. I don’t know how we would have survived. We did all this stuff and the solution was Glenwood and the team. I promise you, they have saved lives- families. He knows what he gets from Glenwood. It’s his home, it’s his support group, it’s his environment. He just knows they have changed his life and changed ours,” says Chandler’s father.
“Having a person in your life [with autism] has its challenges. And this is an unexpected reward, that he would find something that fulfilled his life. As a parent you just want your children to be happy and this makes him incredibly happy.”
Currently Chandler is in a program at Glenwood’s Sullivan Center helping to transition him to adult programs. He is also part of Glenwood’s residential program for adults. His teachers help him work on life skills such as cooking, cleaning dishes and clothes, and spending money. He loves math and reading. Today, Chandler is very verbal and will tell you all about his iPad, the pictures of vending machines he collects on it, and where they are located. He might even ask you to take some photos for him when you leave.
YOU can help add to Chandler’s vending machine project. Send us your vending machine photos from all around the United States! SHARE this post and let’s see how many we can get!
Specifically Chandler likes vending machines:
-In the United States (knowing the exact store or location is great!)
-His favorites are drink machines, because of the graphics and the buttons
-He especially likes what he calls “rare” machines that have special or custom graphics, like a logo or sports mascot
“If people help [send him vending machine pictures], it’s like turning on the Christmas lights to him every day. You know you are giving purely.” -Raymond, Chandler’s father
April is Autism Acceptance Month, where we celebrate those on the spectrum, their families, and the people who help to better their lives. Glenwood is proud to be a leader in serving families touched by autism. Unique in the services we provide from as early as 15 months throughout adulthood, Glenwood served more than 7,000 families last year. To learn more about Glenwood and the work they do with people on the autism spectrum, and how you can further help, visit www.glenwood.org.