Tuesday was an interesting day. I was Alex's shadow at the Thrift It! store because his aid needed the day off. I took Alex into the store and looked for a hidden corner to hide in while he did his work. His job is to pull clothing that is being clearanced, he gets an empty rolling rack from the back, finds out what color tag is being discounted and goes through the inventory on the store floor looking for the right color tag. From my perspective it's a great job because it captures him, there is no real lag in the job so there is no real opportunity to get distracted. To me it feels like knitting, you don't really have a stopping point but you can also see how much progress you've made. It quiets your brain down.
After watching Alex sign in and get set up for work and finding a nice place to be invisible I noticed a pair of women walk in. I'm not sure why they hit my radar, maybe it was because there was no verbal communication between the two, but suddenly I was watching them. I noticed the woman had foam earplugs in and suddenly it made sense... Autism. The older woman looked like an aid and the young woman (mid 20's I'd guess) was Autistic.
I watched them out of my peripherals while they shopped. The woman seemed to know she should stay by the older woman and the older woman seemed to be shopping. They were in the store for a good 40 minutes. I watched the young woman as much as I could, she knew to stay with her aid, she occasionally jumped and there was a bit of hand flapping but she might not have hit your radar if you didn't know what to look for.
At one point all three of them were in the same isle, Alex pulling clothes off the racks, the 20 something Autistic woman, flapping her hands and the aid looking at clothing.
My first thought was worry for the young woman. Is this what she did all day, get paired with an aid that took her on errands all day? Did anyone see her potential? What was her story?
I tried to engage the aid a couple of times and was shut down quickly. It only made me more interested. All I could think as I watched her was her potential being wasted. I realize that I could be wildly projecting here. I don't have any real information what her disability was and it's possible that a job was not a possibility for her, but maybe it was!
When we wrapped up I stopped to chat with a staff person , and she was probably the nicest woman you'd ever meet. A few months ago I found out she has a son on the spectrum. This made three generations of Autism connected to the store that day, an adult, a teenager and a child. We chatted about schools and classrooms but all I wanted to do was tell her that her kid is full of potential. That he can have a full life, independence and meaningful work. It might look a little different and it might be a longer path getting there but it's possible. This generation of Autistics will change how we all see Autism. By the time Alex is in his 20's he might have foam earplugs on, he might still jump and recite Disney movie lyrics but he will have his independence, a job and a full life.