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Autistics in customer service – things to consider

As our Founder always says, “Autistic people are everywhere, doing everything.” With the service industry being so widespread, sometimes autistic people take these jobs. Maybe you’re just starting out and you’re looking for a first job, or maybe you need to get hired quickly to earn some revenue. However you came into the service industry, there are a few things you can expect when working in one of these positions.


Most customer service jobs involve long hours of standing and walking on your feet. Your schedule will likely change from week to week, depending on what hours they need you there. You may feel bombarded with countless social interactions every day from customers, coworkers, and managers. Additionally, customer service workers often work holidays, which can be stressful, but is also an excuse to get out of family gatherings.



If you take on a customer service role for your first employment experience, I recommend starting no more than part time, or even starting at 10 hours per week. This will give you time to adjust to a new environment and have more downtime between the physical and social demands of each shift. You can add on more hours if you decide the role is a good fit for you.


To help you determine what you may be looking for in a customer service position, I will go through three common jobs in this industry- fast food worker, retail worker, and grocery bagger. Hopefully, these examples will give you an idea of what to expect from each role to help you feel more prepared if you are hired for one of these positions.



Fast Food


The first guest on Autism Stories, Amanda Tipkemper, was working with young adults who shared their employment experiences with her. One individual who worked in fast food said, “It’s like expecting someone to drive in two lanes of traffic at the same time. You have to work, and you have to be social, and I can only do one at a time.”



Needless to say, some autistics have found this sentiment to be true for them and opt for other employment options. Trying to provide a positive customer experience while making sure that all the food orders go to the correct customer can be overwhelming for some individuals. However, other autistics manage these situations well!


If this type of fast-paced environment sounds overwhelming to you, but you’re still interested in the food industry, there’s a few things you could try. One of those options would be to work exclusively in the kitchen, or “back of house.” This way, you only have to deal with your coworkers and the food, not hungry customers. Some sensory sensitivities you may want to note are the types of food you would be handling and whether you are comfortable washing dirty dishes.



Another option is to work somewhere smaller where there is no drive thru, such as an ice cream shop. I worked in one for about a year. I still was criticized for my lack of speed, but I personally think that is management’s fault for not hiring enough people. I was able to hold down the job and get some sweet discounts in the process until I could move onto a new position that was a better fit for my skillset.



Retail


Another major area of employment is retail. This is where you work in a clothing or home goods store and sort and place products on the shelves while assisting customers with questions. If you work in a clothing department, you will be responsible for folding clothes and putting clothes onto hangers. This job can also require a surprising level of attention to detail, as some clothing items may look similar to each other, even though they are different items. There is often a scanner that you can use to double check where each item goes in the store. During holidays or sales, the clothing sections can get really messy and disorganized, but the managers usually understand, and you just do the best you can to keep things relatively in order.


Maybe you'll love keeping everything organized!


Something to consider is the types of clothes that are sold at the store. While you may not be bothered by the texture of a t-shirt, sometimes stores have weird textures like sequins or sheer material that may be a sensory nope for you. Some stores also play music, which could be loud enough to affect your concentration. If you can, visit each store before or during the application process to get a sense of the environment you may be working in. Again, if you do not feel inclined to deal with customers, and you happen to be a night owl, most stores have overnight stocking shifts.



Grocery


Grocery stores offer a variety of positions, including cashiers, baggers, and stockers. I want to focus on baggers, since I’ve met several people that have done this role. Bagging groceries does involve some social interaction, but most of the time, the guests do not want to have a prolonged conversation. Usually just a simple, “How are you?” fits the bill.


Most of the time, bagging groceries is a very entertaining, Tetris-like situation.


One thing to note is that the baggers also do cart wrangling (yes, that is the official term). This means that you are outside in all types of weather conditions, including the heat and cold and rain. Usually, stores will provide water on very hot days and they have a clear poncho that you can put on over your uniform on cold days. Also, these are only a few hours of your shift, and you are in the store the rest of the time.


Speaking of the cold, grocery stores are usually pretty chilly, but they are at a consistent temperature, so you know what to expect. While some grocery stores have uniforms, other stores only require you to wear an apron with the store logo on it. This means that you get to wear whatever work-appropriate clothing you want to, including jeans!



Checking out


So, now that you’ve had a chance to read through some customer service positions, you feel more equipped to make decisions regarding your employment. If you would like to talk to someone about employment in customer service or any field, you can learn about our autism life coaching on our website. Other than that, you’re all set. Have a great rest of your day!



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