“I’m not autism anymore,” declares John Bray, 22 of Charlotte, NC, “I’m a hard working young man.” John has worked almost two years as a part time WalMart shopping cart handler. He works a varied schedule, about four days and 20 hours a week, both daytime and evening hours.
John grew up in Falls Church, Virginia and received his autism diagnosis in preschool. He attended public school where he was mainstreamed but worked closely with special education teachers and therapists. School became his favorite place and he rarely missed a day.
Over the next dozen years, John learned to write and spell, read, work his computer, sing, speak some French and use American Sign Language. He loved school and the after school program. Not every school day was a picnic for him or for the staff, but the more he went to school the more he wanted to learn. He received a high school diploma in 2006 based on a modified curriculum.
When his family moved to Charlotte, John had a big adjustment to make in addition to a new house and city. For one thing, John had aged out of the school-based services but was anxious to get into the work force. John and his parents, Robin and Susan, worked with Residential and Support Services (RSS), a Charlotte services agency, to negotiate a new path.
After the paperwork cleared, John began to look for a job with Teresa Smalls, an RSS employment specialist. Teresa prospected several different employment venues, such as a restaurants and retail stores, patiently waiting for the right opportunity to come along. When John applied at a Charlotte WalMart, he interviewed (with Ms Small’s assistance) and was hired. Like all employees he was required to pass the drug test and background check.
John needed a job coach to keep his work on track and RSS provided Vivian Crawford. A natural mentor, she monitors his progress getting the carts out of the parking lot and into the store for shoppers, emphasizing safety. John also moves used recyclable car batteries into storage, mops floors wet from rained-on carts, and picks up trash outside the store. When Ms. Crawford is absent, John’s dad Robin fills in, because John doesn’t want to miss work.
Like others with autism, John is sometimes uncomfortable with change but he continues to demonstrate increased flexibility and handles his varied schedule enthusiastically. He rolls with whatever comes down — including snow, rain, and whatever else the Carolina weather throws his way. He is shyly courteous to customers and greets his coworkers by name, though they often call out his name first across the room when they see him with a smile. Even the Red Box supervisor servicing the DVD machine remarked on John’s hard work.
When he was young, no one knew how far John could go. But his parents believed in him and taught him to believe in himself. Teachers, administrators, and service providers have advocated for him and provided support to his family. Now John takes more responsibility for his own actions in the same way as his older brother Dan. They are often described in the same terms — hard-working, funny and a pleasure to be around.