An inspiring young man with autism has found the ‘recipe’ for curing the COVID-19 lockdown blues in Sydney.
Richard Habelrih, 25, is making 300-400 chocolate ‘freckly faces’ a day from his family’s Maroubra home to fulfill orders pouring in from Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
Before lockdown, Habelrih worked as a public speaker, recalling his experience of being bullied in school and raising awareness about autism.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a sudden halt to his public speaking engagements.
“He hates not having something to do, that depresses him,” his mother Randa told Daily Mail Australia.
“So when lockdown happened and speaking engagements were cancelled he starting pacing, he was distressed. He said ‘I want to start a business’.”
In 2019, Habelrih had sold chocolates to help raise money to get an electric scooter for a child with a mobility disability, so he decided to return to that – something he truly loved doing.
“I would say to people stay safe, be careful, but don’t stop and do nothing,” he said.
“Find something you like to do and do it.”
Randa, who does marketing for Autism Mates, said the chocolate orders keep rolling in.
“We honestly thought we’d have a few orders but we’ve got so many orders we are up until midnight,” she said.
“Yesterday we got a thousands orders and the phone was pinging through the night so there’s probably more.”
Habelrih includes a handwritten note in each ‘freckly face’ chocolate order.
The chocolate-making endeavour is just the latest step in the inspirational journey of this young man who has become a role model for people with autism.
“He was depressed when he left school, he lost his routine,” Randa explained.
“He couldn’t find employment, we tried everywhere, and the places that do hire, like Coles and Woolworths, their narrative was ‘we’ve fulfilled our quota’.
“So our kids end up on the bottom of the heap.”
Describing her son’s ability to speak in front of people, Randa said, “Richard has an intellectual disability, so he doesn’t speak eloquently, but audiences absolutely love him. His message is authentic and he speaks about kindness and acceptance.”
She said Richard was “badly bullied” at school, “and it’s still happening for other kids with autism.”
“We get emails from parents all the time. People are not nasty by nature, they just don’t know how to interact with kids on the spectrum.
“Richard is advocating for himself and his peers and he’s spoken all over Australia now. He’s paid award rates for it.
“He’s not going to have a traditional 9 to 5 career, but he’s forged a path for himself and he rolls with the punches.”
Habelrih already has an extensive resume; he has done paid work as a teacher’s aide at Randwick, run a puppet show, written and performed voice-over work for his own animated show and voiced National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) videos.
He also has his own TikTok channel, which has 140,000 likes.
And now he can add operating a successful online chocolate business to his resume.
“Anyone who phones he tells them, ‘I’ve got a business now’. You should see the smile on his face,” his mother said.
“I’ve got mums emailing me saying ‘Richard has given us hope that we can see our child can have a decent future.
“He’s about to help another 22 year old man with autism how to start his own online business.”