Have you made it down to Good Juju Cafe in Claremont yet? Not only are you treated to very good coffee, you’ll meet an inspirational mother-and-daughter duo behind the counter, Mandy Mason and her daughter Juju.
Juju was just a baby when Mandy learned her child had severe autism. The road ahead was long, and an enormous struggle. But Mandy was determined to ensure her child had the best start to life. Now, against the odds, Juju, who graduated from St Hilda’s last year, is the the star at her own cafe! When The Starfish called into the cafe, Juju was hard at work, helping prepare tasty treats for her customers. Mum Mandy managed to set aside a little time to chat to The Starfish:
What inspired you to want to start this cafe?
I wanted a fun environment for kids with autism to learn work skills. I wanted to give Juju an opportunity to be surrounded by a community of supportive people, practise social interactions; and ultimately, to teach others like her who would have difficulty gaining employment without specific support. There are at least 350,000 people with autism in Australia; at least two thirds are unable to get employment.
What’s the feedback been like so far?
It’s been fantastic – I knew the cafe would be an amazing opportunity for Juju – but I didn’t expect so many others around us would share our passion for community and coming together to support a cause. It’s been an inspiring, heart warming experience.
Who are your regulars?
We have an amazing bunch from surrounding businesses who’ve got to know Juju and want to support our goal to match extraordinary people with extraordinary workplaces. Surrounding businesses, in particular, have been huge supporters- from Aussie Home Loans, Hannah Etherington Flowers, Paulette and the real estate team at Contessi, Ryan and the gang at Empire State Barbershop, Ellie at Ellie Dunn Collective, everyone at Zoo Pet Products and the guys at R&D Cycles.
We get some bike packs coming our way early in the mornings who bring a lot of atmosphere to the lane! We welcome all dogs and anyone looking for fun, great coffee, and home baked goods. Hans Sander, previous owner of Temptations, has been a special consultant, teaching us to bake and make artisan baked goods. We’re excited to soon be introducing baking classes lead by Hans. Juju’s friends and the families of St Hilda’s have been big supporters too.
Most popular items on the menu?
People are always amazed by how good our coffee is – we’ve won over a lot of people with our coffee once we realise we are obsessed with it! The guys at Margaret River Roasting Company have invested heavily in us to make sure we are turning out what we think is the best coffee in Claremont.
How old was Juju when you realised she was autistic, and how did you manage?
Juju started displaying severe behaviours very early on, with extreme tantrums and a loss of social skills and language. It was beyond devastating – to watch your little girl slowly disappear from you. She was 22 months old when her diagnosis was confirmed. After dealing with the grief, I got to work. I learned everything I could about behaviour science and became her primary therapist, often working with her six or more hours a day. I employed a psychologist and other therapists; it was an intensive program.
Now she’s a teenager helping run her own business; would you ever have expected she could have come this far?
I never dreamt she could one day learn to run her own cafe and be an inspiration to other families and those wanting to get employment. There were times where I wasn’t sure either of us would make it – Juju once had extreme self injury and highly restricted eating that involved multiple hospitalisations. She engaged in protracted tantrums that severely impacted the quality of her life.
With intensive work, Juju was able to go to St Hilda’s with support and had the most incredible experience there surrounded by her behaviour team and her life turned around. It was an amazing school for her and she became an inspiration to so many – we’ll never be able to thank the school for all the opportunities she was given there.
What’s behind Juju’s success, other than her mum’s tenacity?
Consistent treatment for more than a decade. Hard work, persistence, having the highest expectations possible and never accepting no.
How has having this cafe changed your daughter’s life?
It has given her a purpose and an opportunity to meet a lot of people, to build her social skills, her work skills and her ability to demonstrate what’s possible if those heavily impacted by autism are provided with the right type of teaching. It’s important our community sees the possibilities of employing people with autism.
Has Juliet made many new friends and connections?
So many! Everyone from stockbrokers to others impacted by autism, Juju is slowly building her tribe!
Over the years you’ve been a leading advocate pushing for better autism services in WA; who has inspired you?
It’s been a journey of nearly 18 years including moving to the US and studying behavioural science, and seeking out the best of the best in the world. I’ve been profoundly impacted by the work of Dr Kimberly Berens who became my mentor and adviser back in 2016. She raised my expectations of what was possible for Juju and taught me about the science of Precision Teaching and fluency that profoundly changed Juju’s language and skills.
As if your life wasn’t busy enough, you’re also a champion athlete. What’s your latest trophy?
I’ve recently broken an Australian record in the 60m that I trained two years to break. And earlier in the year I was part of the Australian team that broke the world record in the 4 x 100m relay in Finland which was an incredible experience. I’m currently ranked number one in the world in my age category in the 60m, 100m and 200m which keeps me fit and strong to allow me to continue to advocate for Juju and others with autism.
Congratulations, Wonder Woman!
Good Juju, at Times Square, Avion Way, Claremont, is open 7.30am to 1.30pm Tuesday to Friday and from 8am to noon on Saturdays.
Photographs: Peter Rigby