Mom started business for autistic son. Now she employs 20 like him.

Photo: Facebook/SpectrumDesigns
Photo: Facebook/SpectrumDesigns

When her husband suddenly died in 2010, Stella Spanakos felt uncertain about what the future would hold for Nicholas, their son. Nicholas has autism, and this inspired Spanakos to think of a job he could be good at. She opened up a company that could employ Nicholas, and now, seven years later, it employs 20 people with autism and does more than $2 million of business a year, New York City’s ABC7 reports.

Spectrum Designs does custom screen printing, embroidery, and digital printing for businesses local to Port Washington, N.Y., and across the nation. The structured routine of the labor works well for the 21 employees, the majority of whom have autism.


“I think all individuals have the right to work and the right to live up to their most full potential,” said Dave Thompson, a supervisor.

Spanakos sold her late husband’s business in the Garment District of Manhattan in 2011 and founded the screen printing business in a barn behind her house on Long Island. The success of the company has helped it upgrade to a 7,400-square-foot facility in Port Washington.

“I don’t like to have to piggyback on other people for money,” said employee Josh Mirsky, who has been working at Spectrum Designs for the past year and a half. “I want to pay my own way. I don’t want to be part of a system.”


Currently, Spectrum Designs employs 21 people. The company hopes to hire about 30 more people with autism in the near future.

“If I could give every person with a disability a job. I would,” Spanakos said.

Besides being the owner of Spectrum Designs, Spanakos also leads the Nicholas Center, a nonprofit that offers services to teach social and vocational skills to autistic people, while also supporting families, Forbes reports. 

“My son and his classmates inspired our team to create opportunities that wouldn’t have normally existed,” Spanakos said. “We focus on what our employees can do, and our spirit is renewed each day as we see them thrive. Working and being part of Spectrum gives our employees a tremendous amount of pride and joy.”

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