Gavin and Caitlin Mulligan outside Dollar Tree

To mark Autism Acceptance Month in April, the Northeast Arc Autism Support Center partnered with The Salem News and Gloucester Times to hold an essay contest. Entrants were asked to write a short essay about autism in the workplace, either from the perspective of someone with autism, a family member, or a coworker. The Autism Support Center team reviewed submissions and selected their top 3 essays. Each of the top received a cash prize: $500 for first place, $300 for second place, and $200 for third place. Read the winning essays below.

Caitlin Mulligan (First Place)

My brother Gavin is a great guy. He loves talking to people and he always ends up putting a smile on your face. Gavin has many interests that he would tell anyone all about. He never lets a conversation drop because he has so much to say.

Two years ago, Gavin started his first job at McDonalds. Nope, he didn’t enjoy it. To put things in perspective, you are working with “hangry” customers that argue with you all the time. There are people yelling to each other in the kitchen because everything is so loud. (VERY OVERSTIMULATING) The thing he enjoyed was manning the cash register – Gavin loves math. Knowing this, we searched for other opportunities that were better for him.

The Dollar Tree was the perfect fit! He aced the interview and his boss was super understanding of his situation. Gavin started right away and loved it. It is a quiet workplace with many people to talk to and a cash register! He gets excited and lets me know every time he sees one of my friends buy something. I remember one time when my mom and I went to his checkout line, this woman in front of us was buying a ton of Christmas decorations. She did not seem like she was having the best day, so Gavin chatted with her. He managed to change her whole mood by just being himself. That is one reason I love Gavin. He is genuinely a good person.

Jared Socolow (Second Place)

I was thrilled to have gotten the job. I’d been searching diligently, and finally landed an opportunity to work in healthcare, which is precisely what I wanted. I was beyond nervous to begin work in a hospital, but I had to go forth. Only days into the job came my first performance review, where I had my very first experience with workplace discrimination. After being called out for what might be considered atypical social tendencies, I made the decision to disclose my diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I even had to explain what ASD was. I was told, to my face, that my having autism could be problematic. I can still remember so vividly how empty I felt after hearing that. This person was so thin-skinned that they were slighted by my fidgeting or whispering under my breath. Was I such an affront to their narrowminded concept of normality? How dare I be different. Ultimately, I was the lucky one in this situation. I came out on top with my employment intact, and without having to resort to outside intervention. It was a nasty, upsetting experience, but it also made me come to terms with the amount of ignorance, and biases against those who are not neurotypical, and the need for continuing public education on neurodiversity. I’m grateful for organizations like Northeast Arc and the work they do in these areas, as my situation is indicative of how vital and needed this work is and continues to be.

Byron Nash (Third Place)

My name is Byron Nash. I’m 31 years old and living with autism. Every child has a dream job they want to do when they grow up. Some wanted to be police officers, others wanted to be nurses. As for me, I always wanted to work for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, or MBTA for short. Buses and Trains are a big interest of mine and the idea of operating one of those vehicles sounded wicked awesome to
me. In February 2011, the vocational department at my high school was able to connect me with a job with the agency.

The department I worked for while I was at the MBTA was System Wide Accessibility. They oversee every aspect of the system making sure it’s accessible for people with disabilities. A lot of my coworkers and supervisors had apparent disabilities such as being in wheel mobility devices to being visually impaired. I got along with everyone in the department and I always did my best with every task I was assigned.

When I first started, my job title was Internal Access Monitor. I would go out on different bus routes with a coworker making sure the bus drivers were accommodating to passengers with disabilities. For example, when a bus showed up I would ask the driver to lower the bus so I would have an easier time boarding. Most times the drivers did, but when they didn’t I had to write a report to my boss about what happened and the driver would be reprimanded.

Over time, I was given more responsibilities within the department. One of the new tasks that I was given thanks to self advocacy was making the schedules for the other monitors. I would plan out which buses and trains that pair they would take that day. I also did some site Visits that had me going all over the MBTA taking photos of accessibility concerns for my bosses.

In July 2022, I ended up leaving the MBTA due to personal reasons. Even though I never got to drive a train or bus during my 11 year tenure there, I still feel that I accomplished a lot. I learned to work and communicate in settings that were not autistic friendly. I’m currently focusing on my mental health at the moment, but I do plan to find another job when I feel ready. I do not regret working at The T and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to work for an agency that I dreamed of since I was four years old.


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