Lisa Masters, mother of a 20-year-old Brandon Masters, who is diagnosed with autism, felt this world did not have a place for him. After he graduated high school, Masters was not sure where her son would go and what he would do. She tried day programs, but nothing seemed to work out and her son was just bored sitting around at home. It all changed when Brandon Masters got a job at local Fry’s Food.
Chicago Tribune reported 35 percent of young adults (ages 19-23) with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school.
For an individual with disabilities finding a job is hard. In 2016, 17.9 percent of persons with a disability were employed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65.3 percent. But the numbers are slowly rising. The unemployment rate for persons with a disability, at 10.5 percent, was little changed from the previous year, while the rate for those without a disability declined to 4.6 percent.
Brandon Masters learned a lot on his new job, and his mother is glad he finally has a place. He does his job well; he is good with customer service, bagging the groceries, getting carts, and most importantly, staying on task. It really motivates him to want to come to work, according to Lisa Masters.
“I knew he could do more, as limited as he is,” Masters said. “I knew he could still contribute.”
Masters went around town to local stores looking for a job for her son, but got rejected everywhere she went. She even offered employers to have Brandon working for free, but no one would hire him. She wanted to give him experience and exposure, because it would have been really good for him and the community, according to Masters.
As Masters drove by new Fry’s grocery store that was being built, she saw a truck that said: “Now hiring. Call for jobs.” So, she did.
Brandon Masters had an interview with Sarah Randall, one of the future managers at the new location. He got suited up, had his briefcase ready, and made a resume. He got the job as a courtesy clerk in April 2017 and has been working there since.
“I think they don’t get chances they need so much, but when they do get that chance, it just gives them something to be happy about, something to be excited about, something to learn from and grow from,” said Sarah Randall, an assistant store manager at the Dove Valley Fry’s Foods. “And I saw that in him. He was just happy and he just wanted a chance. It just gives him something that is his.”
After he was hired, the store had to get special permission for him to be working four hours a week, so it would not be overwhelming.
Masters said her son is very focused when he comes to work, he knows his job responsibilities, and he learned the difference between behavior at home and behavior at work. Since he is happy and friendly all the time, customers love him, they know him by name and they ask for him.
Even if he doesn’t feel good, he never wants to miss a day. Brandon Masters said his job makes him “happy.”
“I wanted him to have a job, so he can give back and so people could be more tolerant to people that are different,” said Lisa Masters.
Brandon Masters works with his job coach, who accompanies him to work, keeps him on task, keeps him focused and safe. Individuals with autism can be very vulnerable, they lack the understanding of the concept that strangers could be dangerous and could follow anyone, according to Lisa Masters.
The coach is also there to intervene if Brandon Maters gets carried away. Teaching what is appropriate to talk about at work was one of the first steps of training, but he worked hard to master that skill.
“Coming to work is a part of people’s life but it is his whole life,” said Lisa Masters. “It is so big to him.”
Lisa Masters said it is a win-win all around. She is glad Fry’s Foods has been extremely accommodating, accepting, patient, and friendly.