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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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Copyright 1999 Roger N. Meyer



     [This two part post is one I made to the St. John's ASPERGER MAELSTROM list on the last day of 1999.  I had just registered my consulting business with the Oregon Secretary of State.  What got my juices flowing was this Mom's constant interference, riding in to protect her son from abusive practices at his place of work.  He works in a national chain of shopping mall pet stores.  This is his first job.]


Part I


     I'm going to be a little "rough" here.  As a person who has experienced variations on Josh's theme throughout my life, I feel I have a right to be direct.  As a person who has heard story after story from young adults describing the same kind of juvenile behavior surrounding their first jobs -- and some of their present work experiences -- let me tell you that this stuff doesn't go away.


     This is real life.


     Josh is an employee. The employer is aware of the abuse and assault.  Put in plain words, the behavior the other employees are engaging in is criminal behavior.  He has been assaulted.  It wouldn't be allowed on the street, and in the workplace, the employer is under strict obligations to see that a hostile and abusive environment does not exist.


     Don't worry about Josh's feelings.  Don't worry about "his losing his job."  What's more important?  Protecting him and allowing him to not learn to stand up for himself, or helping him learn how to fight back in an adult fashion?


     This employer must be taught that turning his or her back on behavior of this kind opens the company up to a major civil damages lawsuit.  Since Josh is disabled and if he has disclosed his disability to the employer, or the employer has reason to know that he is disabled, that automatically starts the ADA clock ticking.  If anything you have said to the employer mentioned that he is AS or disabled, that's it.  The clock is running.


     Talk with a lawyer.  The first consultation is ordinarily free.  Perhaps a diplomatic call from an attorney specializing in disability discrimination and employment law will stop the behavior, and stop it fast.  Juries are NOT understanding of employers who let these kinds of things go on.  Remember, in actions of this kind, it isn't "he said, she said."  The burden is on the employer and named employees or supervisors to demonstrate that the claimant's descriptions of the hostile environment are not true, not that they are true. ADA protects disabled people by reversing the burden of proof.  If, in the disabled person's mind, a hostile and intimidating environment exists, that feeling requires affirmative rebuttal through facts most employers have no access to.  That's the reason why employers settle these cases rather than run them through court.


     Because things have gotten to this point at his present place of work, there is little likelihood that things can be put right.  The reality in most of these instances of egregious harassment is that the employee leaves, but with a nice little chunk of change as damages for what has been suffered.  This isn't the end of Josh's working life......it's the beginning.  I doubt whether a "quit" with compensatory damages would even make a blip on any employment applications he intends to fill out in the future.  Also, as a minor, he may not be obligated to disclose his prior experience with the pet shop, since his rights as an employee often become conflated with issues relating to his minor status.  He can cross that future bridge when he comes to it.


     Also remember that many first time jobs for kids are lousy experiences.  This is a lousy experience.  No one holds a bad employer and bad work conditions against someone who leaves that situation.


     Also, employers are legally prohibited from disclosing anything more than the fact that Josh worked there and perhaps some information relating to his pay and the dates of his employment.  That's all they can disclose!  They are not allowed to run the whole thing down to anyone without a written release from Josh.  It's best that he gets out of there, but that he gets out of there intact.


     It is time that Josh learns what self-advocacy is all about.  You are doing him no favor in "protecting him," or talking to his employer with or without his knowledge.  He also must be encouraged to develop those skills that will shield him from this type of abuse as an adult.  Now is the time to start, and his situation provides a perfect example for the first, powerful lesson in self-advocacy for all of you.


Part II


The Mom responds:  I agree with you, with is happening is against the law.  This is affecting him, even though, he denies it. BUT, he loves this job.


I continue....


     I must repeat again what I have said in other words.  Regardless of whether he has accepted his AS before, what IS happening is as a direct manifestation of his AS.  We all know that older adolescents have a tough time with dealing with the diagnosis, but now is no time to pussy-foot around.


     He has to face the music, and he IS facing it daily on the job.  What isn't happening is the kind of quick lessons in reality testing which are essential when a previously sheltered kid gets involved in the real world of people, work, and abuse.  Since you are not there at his side while he is undergoing this baptism of fire, you can only guess what is happening.


     The fact that the store manager was aware of the harassment after your call, and then next day Josh was assaulted------doesn't that give you a hint?  It's like the situation with the schools.  No one believes the kid is drowning until he is found at the bottom of the pool after having bobbed up to the surface that third time while everyone is looking in another direction.  Life in the world of work is nothing like life in the environment of K-12, where the environment is supposed to be modified to fit disabled kids' needs.


     Uh Uh.  Where he is the real adult world, and thing don't work like that in the adult world of employment.  He isn't working in some sheltered workshop or some enclave assembling widgets.  He's out there with his NT contemporaries, mixing it up and putting it together like the big folks.  The only thing I see is that he's also learning a lot of wrong lessons.


     He's 17, a minor, and you are his parent.  Under the laws of the state he may be old enough to work, but that doesn't mean that employers or employees have a right to ignore any of the hostile work conditions you have described.  If it hadn't happened to Josh, it would have happened to the next vulnerable NT or disabled person to come along, and in both cases, the employer and the employees are wrong in letting this happen.


     He may have all kinds of needs that are being satisfied with this job.  The fact is, though, that despite what the job "feeds," it also is providing him with inappropriate, traumatic lessons that will affect the way he deals with the world of work and abusers long after this first job experience is behind him.  What he has experienced are not some harmless interludes.  They are a part of the entire fabric woven by management and employees of that business alike.


     Again, at the risk of sounding rude and crass, I urge you to take the "long view" of this situation.   What is involved isn't just the immediate palliation of his need to express a special interest in work.  There are other experiences with animals that don't involve exposure to the kind of garbage in a retail sales environment with immature, minimum-wage paid teenagers like himself that he is in now.  There may be work with a vet, or at any place where animals, large and small, are being cared for or tended.  As you might not know, the retail pet business is a peculiarly bad place for animals AND people to be.  That business has more complaints of abuse and neglect to animals than any other animal-related kind of venture.  The entire atmosphere of many of those stores, whether chains or individual enterprises, may not only be hostile to their "wares," but to also to their employees.


     Another thing:


     Since he is AS, just how realistic do you think his "crush" on the girl at work is?  If she is either one of the perpetrators of these not-so-harmless assaults, or has condoned them, or hasn't rushed to his defense, let's get real here.


     Girls can be just as cruel and unthinking as teenaged boys.  His "take" on any thoughts he has about her may not be reciprocated at all, and to "wait" for something good to come out of this is like waiting for the iceberg to melt while the Titanic goes down.  One thing has absolutely nothing to do with the other.


     I realize how important the positive elements of this experience have been for him.  One thing he hasn't done, and you acknowledge that, is to show you the other "hidden costs" of this experience.  As long as he is still in it, he won't show them to you, because he has more to lose--in his own mind--from sharing his concerns and worrying about protective parent behavior that is embarrassing to any teenager--disabled or not--than he is about his own long-term welfare.  Remember that our kids, teenagers all, are just as convinced that time is only today, and that pleasures delayed are pleasures denied forever.  AS kids, like NT  teenagers of their same age, are totally convinced of their invincibility and total immunity to disaster and danger.


     Please don't let his own impulsivity and incapacity to understand the larger picture cloud your own vision.  As he gets older, both of you will continue to have different takes on the same situation, only he'll be expected by so many others to be his own person and draw his own conclusions about his experiences.


You can help him do this, but you can't continue to act as his eyes, his ears, or his conscience.  As he stretches towards adulthood, it's only a matter of time before he will insist on taking all three back and making them his own.


     In the end, you're the parent, and you will do what you feel best.


     I only hope that all of you in the scenario you've painted for us come out the better for it.



Copyright Issues


This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.

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