One Question Gives Mom of Autistic Son Platform to Spread Awareness

Marlee Olivarez never imagined her recent Chick-Fil-A Facebook post, titled “Autism Awareness Post,” would go viral. Yet thousands of shares later, she’s taking the opportunity to spread autism awareness with anyone willing to listen. It all started when one Chick-Fil-A employee asked her a simple question.

The Chick-Fil-A Story

Olivarez’s eight-year-old son, Matthew, is on the autism spectrum. Due to sensory sensitivities, on a recent trip to an Edinburg, Texas Chick-Fil-A, Olivarez asked if the ingredients in her son’s breakfast bowl could be served in separate containers.

Not only did Chick-Fil-A happily oblige, but Hospitality Director Sam Guardiola asked Mom, “Why?” He told her that he had never heard anyone make this request in all his years working for Chick-Fil-A and he was curious.

Olivarez explained to him that too many flavors and textures touching is sensory overload for Matthew. In an interview for KVEO’s local Valley Central News, Guardiola said, “To me, it gave me goosebumps when I found out the reason why and it was even more of a pleasure.”

Since that viral Facebook post, Marlee and Matthew’s Chick-Fil-A story has been featured across multiple news outlets and media sources, spreading awareness on the often unique needs of people on the autism spectrum.

Marlee and Matthew’s Backstory

However, there is more to this incredible family’s story. Olivarez, who is currently seeking her doctorate in public health, didn’t always feel confident as her son’s advocate.

Before Matthew’s diagnosis, Olivarez was confused and uncertain. She noticed odd behaviors such as Matthew lining up or organizing toys rather than playing with them. He had been kicked out of daycares and struggled in school.

Her family rarely ventured to public places because she feared how Matthew might react to unfamiliar and overwhelming sights and sounds and what judgment from bystanders that might bring.

She said once he received the Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, she was grateful. It explained what had previously been unexplainable.

As Matthew’s family has learned to help him overcome his challenges and become advocates for his needs, his strengths have begun to shine!

Mom says Matthew is a fantastic problem-solver and began building complex Lego structures as young as four years old. He personally considers himself an excellent gamer and says that “Not only is the word ‘math’ in my name, but I am really good at it!” Matthew is also a doting big brother to little sister, Madelyn, always quick to comfort her when she needs it!

What’s Next?

While Olivarez continues her personal journey toward her doctorate in public health, she is becoming more passionate about spreading autism awareness and eagerly accepts each opportunity to do just that! It all started with Mr. Guardiola asking her that first simple question, “Why?”

To the Edinburg, Texas Chick-Fil-A: Thank you for taking the time to show genuine kindness and empathy to the Olivarez family!

To Marlee Olivarez: Thank you for not only sharing your family’s story with the world, but also for taking on the role of being a voice for the autism community!

Please share to join Marlee in spreading autism awareness!

Autism is not contagious, but kindness is! – Author Unknown

Published by

Amy Nielsen

Amy Nielsen is a former children's librarian of nearly twenty years. She now spends most of her time obsessively pounding on a keyboard. She is the author of It Takes a Village: How to Build a Support System for Your Exceptional Needs Family, Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her upcoming YA Worth it debuts in May of 2024. She is also a freelance writer for The Autism Helper. When she's not writing, she and her family are most likely crusing the waters of Tampa Bay.