Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Autismbucks-Guest Post from Grimalkin

Grimalkin is a mentally ill genderqueer person who lives somewhere in Texas. Alternately Dallas. He eats bipolar II or depression or something with nails for breakfast. He makes art out of metal and sometimes paint and also crafty things out of yarn and tries to do both of those things charitably. When he feels up to it, he eats mens rights activists. And other bigots. Alive. With nails. He also is probably autistic but is 18 and therefor probably too old to be diagnosed, oh well.
    “Well if you have social issues why do you work at a Starbucks?”
    This damn question. I get it all the time. Because, you know, jobs are only for able people, especially jobs that require you interact with people. Because disabled people all work... nowhere? I don't know, I'm not entirely sure we exist in this mindset.
    But really. Ignoring the fact that this question is awful and flawed to begin with (Why do I have a job at  Starbucks? I don't know, because they offered me a job and I don't have the privilege of being picky with first jobs? Because a disability doesn't destroy your ability to do anything and everything forever?) it does raise an interesting topic. Notably, how I navigate a job that does include a lot of social interaction... and how it's actually not that hard to make my job accessible, and how parts of my job go hand in hand with my disabilities. Also how it's not that hard for my coworkers to make my job shit by being unaccommodating dicks.
    First off, I talk in scripts. I remember the right things to say and parrot them out because I can't easily think of things to say- or the proper things to say, anyways. You know who loves the shit out of scripts? Starbucks. Starbucks is all good with telling you to say the same thing to every customer every time and every customer almost always says the same thing as every other customer in response. There's even a set way to call out drinks to people- no need to improvise, just read out the script. The environment is practically a petri dish for script-using.
    Because I've become comfortable with using certain scripts in my job, I'm also in the perfect situation to learn social skills as well. I see a huge number of people, and say the same thing to them each time... so I can make little variations each time I have a different customer. I can play with inflection, I can try out different words or phrasing, I can practice more improvised communication in a way that is very forgiving- Worst case scenario, I baffle a customer for five minutes and then forget about them and move on to the next, where I can try a new approach and see what works best. I can learn. It's like a fabulous sandbox for social skills.
    There are, of course, issues you run into. Issues in this sentence being synonymous with “coworkers.” Coworkers who expect you to act and be neurotypical, and don't have space in their tiny minds to comprehend that you do things a certain, different way and that that is okay. There are ways that they could be accommodating- giving orders in ways that work with your brain (I am happy to say that I have a supervisor who started off by asking how I take orders best), being clear with instructions for you- seriously, fuck “be thorough. But be fast. You're being too slow, now be more thorough! Now, let's move you on to some other supervisor who has an entirely different idea of how to do things.”- and being actually straightforward and serious with the way they communicate with you. Y'know, professional.
    Seriously, that last one is huge for those of us who straight up do not easily comprehend hidden meaning and intent. An example- as I was wiping down tables on the patio, my supervisor came up to me and said, in a concerned tone, “What's wrong? Is something wrong?” To which I answered no... but I became really worried because I do have emotional issues and I can't always tell how I'm acting or how I'm portraying my emotions. “Because... it seems like you don't want to be wiping down tables!” At which point I'm freaking out a little inside because what, no, I don't mind, I mean I don't love it but, just, what, what am I doing, am I in trouble HOLY SHIT, and then all of the sudden “No I mean, it's okay, you can be honest with me about it.” And at this point I've kind of been brain-bludgeoned into stupefaction and am maybe wondering if they are joking but honestly, I'm overwhelmed and just what the fuck. Luckily they left after I hamfistedly made some response that I don't remember but even thinking back now I am utterly baffled at what was going on. The part of me that has kind of learned how people work... to an extent, is thinking it might have been some kind of humor, but jesus. Don't do that.
    Along with this issue I have with coworkers, there's the issue of... how I am. How I do things. I move weird and I hold stuff “wrong” and I work best if I can work out my own routine of doing things. Unfortunately, this leads to being told that... you're moving wrong and need to hold something this way because it's better and you need to sequence tasks this way because it's the “best” way and your own way that makes you comfortable is WRONG.
    The gist of this? Disabled people can hold jobs. Autistic people and people with social issues can turn their jobs into little paradises of social skills learning. The thing that makes it impossible to keep jobs sometimes is... other people. Welcome to the social model of disability.


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  2. Exactly how my partner does his job. And very very well.

  3. I see the questions asked are exactly the same as when I was an autistic with pervasive depression and mobility issues working at a DFW Starbucks back when you were a newborn.

  4. This is such a fantastic post and I can very much relate this. I've worked for many food service and retail places, including Starbucks and McDonald's (the latter my current job), and even a call center (wanna talk about scripts??? That job had literal ones). And in all reality, accommodations are way simpler than people think. At my current job, all I needed was a couple of extra training shifts and for new instructions and procedures to be written down.

  5. LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS!!!! LOVE IT! I am a mom of a 6 yr old with ASD and a big fan hearing autistic adult voices because I have to LEARN THIS SHIT, BABY! This might become my new favorite blog....

  6. Thank you for this one! It's perfect! I am not on the spectrum, but do have social anxiety issues and work in a retail environment. I rarely have issues with customers, but definitely have issues with coworkers all the time! My manager actually told me once that he wants me to be "more emotionally consistent." Umm... What the hell does that mean? Doesn't everyone have different moods on different days? I'm still baffled and don't know how to do that one!

  7. I love the phrase "social model of disability." Just so perfectly makes concrete the nebulous nature of the invisible disability!

  8. Interesting!

    I could never work in a coffee shop or a fast food place, or again at a call centre - but that's more because of my sensory issues (hypersensitive to sound, for one thing, and coffee grinding hits one of my trigger points, as do blenders, and metal cutlery clashing; also hypersensitive to light) than my social ones. (Though the difficulty I have with "getting" tones of voice plays into the call centre refusal.) I have basic social scripts that include the beginnings of small talk, the "How are you?" details, and a "Can I help you with anything?" script... which would probably cover most of the scripts needed that aren't provided by the employer.

    Retail sales, on the other hand, I could never go in to partly because of the "sales" aspect (the rest of it being, again, hypersensitivities - do not get me started on pharmacies and stores that have perfumed products *right by the bloody entrance*), because that requires social skills I don't have (and would only be interested in acquiring specifically to sell my stories).

    But yes, I can definitely see for someone who doesn't have my aural / visual hypersensitivites, a job at Starbucks or the like where you *are* given scripts would work well.

    (And yes, I can also understand the co-worker issues, especially as they expect you to *not* speak in scripts when talking to them! Though I've been lucky in my working life, in that I can usually avoid conflicts in the workplace and, as far as I know, tend to give the impression of being quiet, helpful, and possibly bookish or a little shy.)

    And yes, "social model of disability" is what a lot of disability organizations are urging we work to change our paradigms to, because with that, it would be a matter of: there are supports available, therefore this person with a disability can do anything they want - as opposed to the "medical model" which is: Fix! Fix! Fix! And if we can't fix you, you're broken for life!

    :) tagAught