What I was like as a high functioning autistic and employed, and why I am self employed

When you hire me, you end up getting an employee that will know the store or workplace by heart. The attention to detail that comes with my autism makes me a great teacher for any job that I work. I learn new jobs or work areas really fast. I end up learning and understanding the expectations of every job in a company, and I find and catch things since I pay attention to my surroundings and what is happening.

I started my employment career with Target, where my sister had a job. I worked with the earlier morning crew stocking the store before the store opened.

Since I was someone who stocked the store in combination with my autism, I knew where everything was in the store. Whenever I was asked to work longer hours, customers caught on that I was the person to ask where something is. In addition, I was working with Target at a time when the company was adding refrigeration and fresh food to the store. We were moving products around the store, which ended up affecting customers because the product wasn’t where they originally would find it. My memory and attention to detail enabled me to point customers to where the product is in the store.

I worked a job where I was tasked with staging cases around the store so another team member would come around and stock it after my task was completed. A label on the box told you which area, aisle, and section of that aisle the product went. I got to know the products, or brands, so well that I no longer needed to look at the label. I could look at the box itself – Tide – and know where I was going with that case. My coworkers were in awe with the pace I worked at and how fast I staged the cases.

When I got a new manager, they expanded the number of trainers for the team and made me a trainer because I was the only person who did my job on a daily basis and knew that role forward and backward. Once I was done with my role, I turned to stocking products to the shelves just like everyone else. I taught the job as best as I knew the job, and I excelled at it. I turned into my superiors’ favorite to train the new employees, which the other trainers didn’t like. I earned it though because my superiors would assign me people who developed bad habits from their initial training. I caught bad habits and productively explained and showed what the desired outcome is. I do recall one of these people wondering why he was not taught what I was teaching him; he felt like he was really learning the job from me.

I was asking to progress and move up with the team and company. I could not understand why my superiors would not give me that chance. When Target added the new fresh food to the company, an additional team was created to stock those products. As time progressed, that teamed struggled. I had friends on that team who did not understand why I was not given the opportunity to lead that team. Before I left Target, the last seasonal period I had with the company helped put that into perspective.

Every seasonal period during the Thanksgiving and Christmas period, we got a lot of temporary hires. The amount of new hires we got practically gave me a whole new team to train. I did not teach for my job and my job alone; I taught the team as a whole. When these new hires needed to ask my superiors where they needed to go next, I taught them the procedure that my manager was teaching the team to do. After you are done with your aisle, you start heading in the direction we stock the store in and start stocking the next aisle that has no one in it. I taught the team to be able to do their job without needing supervision. Once I got everyone all on the same page, we were stocking the store in record time. It should take 4 hours to unload a truck, stock the store, bring the back stock to the back of the store, and clean the store and prepared to be shopped. When I got everyone all on the same page, we were accomplishing that task in three hours.

My next employer was Walgreens at their distribution center in Moreno Valley. I got hired there by going through the Department of Rehabilitation, who assigned me to EXCEED, a local nonprofit organization that helped people with disabilities get employment. They have a transition work group program with Walgreens where people with disabilities got a foot in the door to demonstrate if they can do the job or not, which is how I got that opportunity.

I met their quota by my second week on the job working in their pick-to-light system in one of their split case departments. The managers I started out with figured out that they could put me on any aisle and I would meet quota. I was being paid based upon my performance. My performance climbed from 110% to 120% to 130%, all depending upon where I was assigned. EXCEED could only afford to pay me a certain amount since my wage reflected my performance.

When I finally got the news that I will be a Walgreens employee, my department was asked for two volunteers for 30-day assignments in full case pick. Only one person raised their hand to volunteer. Since I would be a Walgreens employee on the week I would be starting the 30-day assignment on, I raised my hand to volunteer. The look on my manager’s face explained everything, so I said, “I will be an official employee when the 30-day assignment starts. Could you talk to your boss to see if we can pull this off?” My boss did so. He had a meeting with me later that day and explained I will be reporting to full case when I officially started with the company.

On my first day in full case pick, I, logically, spent the whole day learning the job. On the second day, my trainer came up to me at the end of the day telling me I met their quota saying, “You are already making rate. Nobody does that. Nobody comes to this place, learns the job on the first day, and makes rate on their second day.”

My autism makes me a pattern thinker. I catch onto patterns really fast. Once I catch onto the routine, I start running.

In my distribution center, P-Mod is a high volume quota department because all the product has already been de-trashed. It is a very high pick rate compared to my assigned department, but similar due to it is a pick-to-light department. When I got my first opportunity to volunteer and help that department, they had me work on their two hardest aisles to meet quota on. I made 120% on my first day in their department. I got recognized in my home department and my team was told that nobody does that in P-Mod: show up and put up 120% on the first day.

I accomplished that because of my pattern thinking. I catch onto the pattern that fast. I learned what products are regulars on the fly. I started out on P-1 and got that aisle ahead. Due to that, they moved me to P-2 to get that aisle caught up. I learned which products that flew off the shelf on the fly. I pick up on the pattern. I bounced around those two aisles and met 120% quota while being moved around.

I learn that fast. My autism enables me to be able to go to any department and meet quota.

I got to know the company to the best of my ability as well. I digest what you tell me.

My distribution center went through a shake up in its leadership team while I was there. The manager I saw every day in full case ended up being replaced with someone else. After I met the new manager, I noticed something was off right off the bat. He was not making himself available to his team. This was a seasonal period where I end up assisting full case for a couple or few weeks. For two weeks, I took note how often I saw this new manager was on the floor. Once I saw enough, I started asking all of my friends in this department what was going on with this manager. I took everything my friends told me and prepared it to present to my inbound/outbound manager, Darren DeVault; who can corroborate this story. I told him everything starting with the most important one of all that this manager was not making himself available to his team. He wrote down everything. I was going through the list of what I could tell, and he told me this is all really good information after the third item I listed, which encouraged me to keep going. The very next week in full case, the department had someone else as its manager. I understand how important full case is to the entire operation and it needed a manager that is going to meet its needs. Furthermore, what Walgreens taught me what they were looking for in its managers enabled me to catch and report this.

My autism makes me incapable of compartmentalizing. When I find a problem, I can not ignore it. With my attention to detail, I notice everything.

Corporate had shown up to tackle the shift in leadership. They held town halls to talk to everyone in the distribution center. When I was selected to attend a town hall, I let everyone else speak because I knew I could dominate the conversation. I chimed in when I could. When the meeting was over, I asked for the email address for the person who lead the town hall. I reached out to get my own meeting with Todd Polarolo.

This was at a time when I was able to volunteer and work 12 hours shifts. I noticed the differences between how 1st shift did their jobs compared to how my shift – 3rd shift – did their jobs. In my meeting with Todd, I pointed that out, which resulted with my shift returning to certain standard operating procedures that were not being followed when I had arrived at Walgreens. I remember pointing out that temporary employees were stocking without gladiators, which is a portable, wristband computer. There are other items I brought up, but those are what I remember most. Point being, I brought to Todd’s attention what I knew can and should not be compartmentalized that he could address.

Walgreens has a program called SPIN, which means Simplified Process Improvement Needed. The SPIN gave me an outlet what I did not compartmentalize. I tackled everything from policies, safety issues, to partnering with managers to tackle an immediate need. When the issues are not addressed, it affects my mental health away from work because of my inability to compartmentalize. I need the problems fixed because I return to a workplace that reinforces what has not been compartmentalized.

In order for me to cope, I need to stim. In the autism field, stim is known as a coping mechanism. From my own experience with this aspect of the stim, I get an uncontrollable urge to stim just so I can quiet and calm my mind. My autism causes me to obsess. I can’t just stim for one to two hours and be fine. I obsess, so I ended up stimming my life away while I was working at Walgreens.

I am a talented musician. I know how to play the drums, bass guitar, piano, harmonica, and hand percussion. I know music just as well as how well I know Walgreens as a company. Music does not provide the quiet and soothing affect that I get from playing video games. I do not live my life when my workplace causes me to stim when I am not working.

This is the biggest and most drastic caveat because I am capable of being an outstanding employee and team member to a company as a whole. I learn the jobs extremely fast and know the store or workplace like it is the back of my hand. I am an incredible teacher that can turn bad habits into good habits and is capable of getting a brand new team to do the job as fast and effectively as possible based upon the company’s standard operating procedures, or report when they are not being followed. I am an active and engaged employee that uses his inability to compartmentalize to solve problems. It all stops working when I am expected to compartmentalize all the problems like everyone else does.

I am not meant to compartmentalize problems. My autism enables me to solve them.

It is no simple task for me to go get a menial job just so I can get by. The attention to detail that comes with my autism means I notice everything from coworkers that do not do their jobs correctly in combination to managers that do not enforce standard operating procedures. It becomes way too much when there are too many incompetent managers and the solutions I bring forward are not implemented. I can’t be in a dysfunctional workplace. Even if I am in a healthy one, I will find every flaw and problem. This is why I am self employed.

I can still help businesses though. I love solving problems; I just can’t put myself in an environment where I am expected to compartmentalize them.

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