First, an introduction: I’m a well-educated individual whose mind also happens to be on the autism spectrum.
Specifically, I’ve been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
I received my master’s degree in American history last May from UNCG with a specialization in the American Civil War/Reconstruction period.
I am pursuing a second master’s in library and information sciences there as well.
For the past six months, I also have been working approximately three days a week at Chez Genese, a popular new French restaurant in Greensboro that seeks to fill 50 % of its workforce with people with developmental disabilities.
I spent many hours training for my job as a server and it has taught me many things:
- How to more appropriately and kindly navigate a social universe, which is never easy for me.
- How to disambiguate between text and subtexts in conversations with customers (are they truly happy with breakfast or lunch entrees? Do I need to provide them with more detailed synopses of menu items? Are the fact that they are not smiling a sign of some sort of dissatisfaction with their quiche Lorraine?)..
- And how to further refine my understanding of social cues which we “Aspies” famously have difficulty with.
I am always punctual. I work hard and enthusiastically and am proud to say that I am successful in my job, and happy in my accomplishments. I regularly receive accolades from both my bosses, fellow employees and customers, not to mention a steady supply of tips!
Challenges, nevertheless, are a constant for me. I strive to cultivate a can-do attitude to keep my distance from naysayers whenever possible. Like pop-up storms in North Carolina, they can show up at a moment’s notice.
In my experience it is far easier to make a judgment than to refrain from one. However, I, too, am not immune from the effects of negative opinions.
This fact (if I may call it that) was brought home powerfully to me several weeks ago when I looked at my Facebook page and saw a comment that a California cousin had posted. He had apparently just learned of my employment at Chez Genese and was quick to weigh in on with his remark that “you have a Master’s Degree in American History and are doing another Master’s too, so what are you doing working in a restaurant as a server for G-d’s sake?”
It hit me like a one-two punch.
If truth be told, first I’m just grateful to have a job, not to mention one in which I am appreciated. In my mind all work is honorable.
I am not particularly religious, but I am a person of faith who finds some solace in reading the Bible and who found my conviction about the value of my job receiving a bit of ancient moral support from a line from Ecclesiastes: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (9:20).
There is another line I recalled as well in the Old Testament about “find(ing) satisfaction in all (one’s) toil” (3:12-13). I am proud to model for the neurotypical universe that people with disabilities are able and conscientious employees. Their disabilities do not define them and that whatever one’s employment is, it should be undertaken with zeal and enthusiasm.
Second, my being on the autism spectrum is not simply a fact, it is a responsibility that I take very seriously. I love working in the restaurant industry and admittedly, when I meet a customer who wants to talk American history (as is not uncommonly the case), I can spiral into an orbit of intellectual happiness.
The fact that I work in a French café does not take away in any sense from my academic achievements and standing as a historian. American history is my passion. Anyone who knows me certainly knows that. But my OTHER passion is doing autism advocacy by demonstrating that this needs to be done on a daily basis in every environment and venue.
I feel fortunate that Chez Genese and numerous other businesses are stepping up to embrace the disability community by hiring its members.
Each of us has talents and abilities. We need to let each of these little lights shine as a growing beacon.
Initiative and hard work are valuable in and of themselves, in whatever form they may take.