About autisticaplanet

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Welcome to a blog about an autistic adult woman in her late 30's using words and images to advocate acceptance as well as awareness of those with life-limiting sensory processing issues and resulting social and behavioral challenges. I write about inclusion ideas for those who remain in isolation due to their neuromakeup and share how my Christian faith keeps me going. Thank you for visiting.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Working in retail as an undiagnosed autistic teenager



When I was 16, I got a notion in my head that I needed to get a job. I wasn't ready at 15, when most kids in the U.S. start getting "legitimate" jobs-mostly in the retail industry.
I wanted a job to prove myself.
Nobody made me go to Office Max for an interview. I picked Office Max, because I loved how office supplies smell. I love to organize things and figured that it would be quiet (I don't know why) in an office supply store.
My mom let me know that there was no pressure from her. I think she was trying to dissuade me without making me feel like I couldn't do anything. She was willing to let me try.
The interview went well. I knew to dress nice and be on time. The man asked me questions like if I was okay with wearing a uniform. Yes. Was I OK with taking direction (that seemed like an odd question to me. I always generally did what was asked of me). Yes. Did I have a set amount of salary? I said no. I didn't know a job candidate had any right to name their own salary in 1996. The man shook my hand and thanked me for coming. I thanked him for interviewing me. I was told I would be called back and was.
I never gave a thought to whether or not he saw me not making eye contact, because autism wasn't on my radar. I wouldn't be diagnosed until 1998.
My mom helped me pick out a few uniforms. I made sure all my chores were done and the VCR set to record shows I would miss while working.
I could not have been more wrong about an office supply store being quiet. And this was before smart phones' blaring ring tones. Few people had cell phones in 1996.
Babies wailed and toddlers tantrumed in the aisles. The acoustics amplified the noise.
I had to check people out, including people whose kids were now crying and tantruming in checkout.
I had to get faster at it.
I was constantly asked if I was counting the cash back to the customers. I was.
The phone rang. I had to answer a phone. I had to give an obnoxiously long, professional greeting giving my name, the store name and asking them how I could direct their call. I wasn't very familiar with using answering machines and wound up speaking to them as if I had caught the actual person. Phones amplify everything, at least that's how it sounds in my ears.

My break came. 10 minutes for a part-timer. I cried the entire time, glad nobody else was back in the small break room to ask me why I was crying.

I cleaned up in the evening and tried to begin memorizing where the inventory was. I cleaned and put stray stock back where it belonged.

I was beyond exhausted when my shift ended. The store closed at 9pm, but my shift was from 6pm-10pm. They wanted me to work 2 hours more and get onto a work schedule that changed constantly.

The next day, the woman who was training me got mad when I couldn't unlock a file that was inside a built in safe box in a drawer. I didn't have the motor skills to twist the sticking combination lock right and left.
I was sent to one of the regular checkouts instead of the central desk and told to keep the candy supply stocked.

Was I still counting the cash back to the customer? Yes.

I scanned the wrong part of several tags and lost the store tons of money in a short amount of time. Fortunately, someone caught it and I didn't get in trouble.

The next day, I felt physically ill. I wanted to hurt myself. I didn't know how to tell my mom that I didn't feel like working anymore. I felt like a class A failure. I didn't know I was autistic. I knew I was super sensitive to many noises, some intolerable (like infants and toddlers screaming and crying), but I didn't know why.

I tried to cut myself, superficially. I banged my head against the wall in the shower. I finally screamed and attacked myself in the car as my mom turned into the Office Max parking lot.

I remember telling her "I just CAN'T do it."

My mom remained the calm and steadfast person she always had been. She drove me home and put me to bed. Then, she called my supervisor as I was too sick (I'd thrown up and I had a pulsating migraine).

I wasn't fired. I quit on my own terms.
My salary was above the minimum wage by about 15 cents.
I made $52.00 in 2 days.
It didn't turn out to be worth it but at least I tried. I found out what didn't work for me.

I would never work in retail again. I did work from home for a year via DHS, but the funding dried up for at home work.
I was also a cat sitter for one summer back in 2012. I enjoyed doing that as I like cats. I quit, however, when I was promised job security through Christmas and my boss changed her mind. I wouldn't be lied to and be fired unexpectedly.

As I don't have a mom to drive me (and rescue me as she did the time I couldn't turn the key to unlock the door at the place I cat sat) and can't cope with noisy public transportation, I won't be working part time anywhere.

I currently enjoy making stretch bracelets from the comfort of my own home. I can stim in my rocking chair and take things at my own pace. Sometimes, an acquaintance of my aunt sells some of them for me.

My sister (whom I live with) meets all of my major needs and I do get government benefits.

If you are autistic and looking for your 1st job, I would strongly recommend that you DO NOT apply in retail. It is too fast-paced and too loud. The fluorescent lighting in most stores is glaringly harsh.

Don't hate yourself if you don't succeed the first or fifth time. Know your strengths, but also accept your weaknesses. Some can be improved while others can't. I think that is true of all humans. It's obviously harder for autistic people to cope and be productive in a world that is too loud, too bright and too damn fast.

If you are diagnosed with autism, get a case-worker through HHS, someone who can help you find a job that matches your interests and strengths along with the most beneficial work environment.

I'm Generation X. I am glad there are more supports than what very little there was back twenty years ago. The Asperger's diagnosis was only 2 years old in the DSM-IV. Oh, and Bill Clinton was president.

If you are 18+ and have "aged out" of child services, check out these two links to HHS & DHS (Illinois residents).

 HHS http://www.hhs.gov/programs/social-services/programs-for-people-with-disabilities/index.html

If you are a resident of the state of Illinois -DHS  http://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?