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Autistic teen's diorama is now a real ice cream parlor

Autistic teen’s diorama is now a real ice cream parlor

Original Article by Barry Carter | NJ Advance Media | March 7, 2020

The few words that Hannah Hailemichael knows are the gateway into what she cares about.

“Thank you” and “you’re welcome” sound like one phrase. She likes pizza. “Mommy” and “daddy” are important ones, too, for the 15-year-old girl from Trenton, who is autistic.

Two years ago, her parents - Eric McRoy and Konjit Hailemichael - said Hannah kept repeating the word, “ice cream.’’

The sweet treat was part of her diorama, a three-dimensional model in which she used a shoe box to design an ice cream parlor for a school project.

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“Good job," her father recalls saying.

It’s not cardboard anymore. That shoebox, her parents said, became the impetus for a real business, one they believe their daughter had been thinking about when she made the diorama.

Any ideas? You got it: an ice cream parlor. This one is the The Trenton Ice Cream Parlor and the grand opening is March 12.

It’s on the ground floor of a commercial/residential building the family owns at 969 S. Broad Street. The couple, who once had a retail business in Pennsylvania, wanted to do something for their daughter as she grew older.

“That’s when we remembered that she had built the ice cream parlor," her mother said.

In this setting, Hannah could work, socialize and learn various skills that will help her later in life.

“We figured we do this for her."

Eight months ago, it was just an idea. Now it’s a reality and the attention they’ve received is something the family didn’t anticipate. Folks have responded on Instagram and Facebook, where Hannah has some 2,000 followers. Dignitaries will be at the grand opening; the street will be closed for a festival.

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“There are people excited about what we did," Eric McRoy said. “It has been phenomenal."

The parlor had a soft opening in October, and the parents said they believe it’s helping their daughter.

Hannah does chores around the store on the weekends. She’ll wash dishes and scoop ice cream. There have been times, her parents said, that Hannah has shocked them.

“I thought I heard her say, ‘hi customer,’’ and “'what do you want,'" her mother said.

The shock reminds her of the day when Hannah was 8-years-old. Mom thought she heard her daughter say, “mommy.’’

By age 12, she really did hear it. She also recognized that Hannah said “daddy” and the names of her three brothers, too.

“She’s been opening up more because she’s been in the ice cream shop," her father said.

Hannah’s ability to express herself is limited verbally, but what she had to say came through loud and clear creatively. Next Thursday, she’ll get to put the cherry on top of her idea when she cuts the ribbon to mark the official opening of the store.

© 2020 Houston Chronicle
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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