A-B Regional Beer Brews Breakthrough For Nonspeaking Autism Cause

In a breakthrough for what Spellers Freedom Foundation interim executive director Dawnmarie Gaivin terms a “big civil rights movement,” four nonspeaking autistic individuals have teamed with Anheuser-Busch’s Golden Road Brewing to develop Get on Board Hazy IPA, a limited-edition regional craft beer.

Launching this month at select Southern California retailers, all proceeds will benefit the foundation, which awards scholarships to the nonspeaking autistic community.

“Until recently, no one thought they were intelligent because they didn’t have a way to communicate what was inside their brains,” Gaivin tells Marketing Daily about the estimated 31 million nonspeaking autistic people worldwide. That began to change a few years ago when Gaivin co-founded the Spellers Method, which combines letterboard communication with occupational therapy.



Gaivin and Golden Road Brewing co-founder and president Meg Gill both have non-speaking autistic children, which helped lead to the collaboration behind Get on Board, a hazy IPA brewed with real citrus, and with flavors described by the brewery as “juicy orange, eureka lemon and subtle peach.”

The recipe and product name came from nonspeakers, four of whom (all over 21) worked with Golden Road in-person to develop the ale, Gaivin says.

Golden Road’s team members “were very open-minded but had never met anyone with nonspeaking autism,” she recalls. But they “collaborated with them from day one until the final product, took direction from the spellers and brought their dream to life. It shows what society can be.”

The brewer tells Marketing Daily that Gill “wanted to find ways to bring awareness of the amazing work Spellers is doing.”

Also out to increase awareness of non-speaking autistic people, JB Handley and his nonspeaking autistic son Jamison co-wrote the 2021 book, “Underestimated: An Autism Miracle,” and also co-founded the Spellers Freedom Foundation.

The book led to a 2023 documentary film “Spellers,” co-produced by the foundation -- with actors Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg and husband Donnie Walhberg as executive producers -- which has played the film festival circuit and will debut for free on YouTube in mid-April.

The film in turn has led to a weekly documentary TV series titled “Underestimated, the Heroic Rise of Nonspeaking Spellers,” whose weekly five-episode first season will launch online May 25 for $24.99. All money raised will go to pay back investors and towardsproduction of new episodes for future seasons, Gaivin says.

The third episode of the series, titled “Crafty Collaboration,” documents the development of Get on Board Hazy IPA, with other episodes focusing on such topics as education reform, self-advocacy in healthcare, and the use of spelling as a communication method for non-speakers with Down’s syndrome.

Golden Road, meanwhile, has “committed to creating a new beer with Spellers Freedom Foundation every year,” Gaivin reveals. She also hopes that Get on Board can “create enough of a stir and sell out” so that the beer gets brought back next fall and could even become a year-round product.

Already, Get on Board Hazy IPA “has the potential to be our biggest fundraiser to date,” she says.

Beyond Golden Road, she sees the possibility “of multiple opportunities… with other vendors and agencies.”

Asked if that could include other Anheuser-Busch regional craft brewers, she responds, “We are open if Anheuser-Busch is interested."

She adds, "This is a moment in history where people for the first time are realizing the capabilities of nonspeakers.”

For reasons not clear, the number of autistic people has grown more than 300% over the past 15 years, she notes, “so there’s just going to be more and more nonspeaking autistic people, and finding ways for us to all work together is a brilliant step in the right direction.”

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