After reading about the harsh realities of employment for those with autism in “Problems with Employment for Individuals with Autism”, we reached out to, Nicholas Pusateri, a recently employed 19 year old with autism.
Pusateri currently works as a prep chef at Harbor Links, a golf club in Long Island, New York. Some of his duties at work include “rolling up salmon”, “chopping vegetables”, “setting chicken cutlets to be covered in eggs and bread crumbs”, “opening clams”, and (his favorite part) “getting to prepare a lot of recipes to be put in the oven.” We reached out to Pusateri to ask him about his thoughts on getting a job, earning a paycheck, working with co-workers, and employment in general.
Often, a major hurdle for individuals with autism is finding a job that fits their needs so we asked Pusateri how he found his job. Pusateri explained, “I met this woman on a train. My mom had a conversation with her and told her how good I am at chopping. She asked me where I see myself in 5 years. I see myself living in my own home and working in a kitchen. A few months later we went to Harbor Links for an interview.”
Pusateri and his mother happened to be sitting next to a woman who worked near their home who was interested in hiring individuals with special needs. The puzzle pieces fell into place very nicely for Pusateri, but then next step was up to him. When asked how he felt about going in for an interview Pusateri admitted, “I felt nervous that I might not get the job. It would be hard to get another job if I didn’t get this one.” To calm himself down he “kept saying to [himself], ‘You are smart. You are talented. Do your best. Stay calm.’” Pusateri was aware of the difficulties individuals with autism face when trying to achieve employment and waiting to hear back from the interviewer was nerve wracking. After finally receiving notice that he got the job Pusateri “felt grateful”.
Pusateri also mentioned that finding a job when one has autism is different than if the individual did not have autism. When asked what made it different, he shared, “You need to find one that suits you! Think about what you’re good at… like your special skills and then find that job!” Pusateri has been developing these special skills for a few years working at places like Barry Tech, an organization that prepares high school students with special needs for the work force, and with his community habilitation worker. According to Pusateri, the most important things he learned from Barry Tech were knife skills and knowledge about kitchen safety, which he uses daily in his current job! His community habilitation worker also helped to prepare him for employment and a more independent lifestyle by practicing “home stuff, like cooking and planning a budget.” Both of those skills are necessary for Pustaeri’s new phase of his life, especially with his new paychecks!
Pusateri told us that one of the main reasons he feels happy about working at Harbor Links is that he is “disabled but … [is] earning [his] own living!” He is aware of the fact that being able to provide for himself is something most people do but also noted that many people with disabilities are not in that majority. When the subject of paychecks came up Pusateri’s face lit up and he excitedly told us “I get to put that money in my bank account!”
Another thing that Pusateri got excited about discussing was one of his coworkers, Rajim – “Rajim is a co-worker. He’s actually one of the coworkers I’m getting along with! If I have any problems, I should come to him. Inside and outside the kitchen.” He continued by saying that he really enjoys talking with his co-workers about their “lives outside the kitchen.” He is the only member of the staff on the autism spectrum but says he and his co-workers treat each other with mutual respect.
At the end of this interview, Pusateri confidently said that he thought he was doing good work in the kitchen and that knowing that made him feel grateful.
Our thanks to Nicholas Pusateri for his participation and candor in allowing us a glimpse into the impacts of his recent employment!