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Overcoming Challenges: My First Full Time Job

This guest blog is from Emily Walzak on her recent job experience. This blog will be one of several posted in October in celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month! You can learn more about the campaign here.

"It's raining cats and dogs; better not step in a poodle". At 10 years old, my mother's statement totally confused me. I couldn't understand how cats and dogs could just fall from the sky and I certainly didn't want to step on a poodle ... and I couldn't see the humor in it either. My name is my name is Emily Walzak and this is just one example of what I struggled with on a daily basis as I grew up with Aspergers Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I could have had a very difficult childhood growing up if it wasn't for the love and support of my parents, my 3 sisters and my teachers at school to help me understand everyday situations.

For a child with Aspergers, sometimes the simplest things such as learning to ride a bike or tie your shoe laces can be monumental challenges. After that, you have to face the more complex situations such as when to make eye contact, how to talk to people, how to understand facial expressions and body language – all just about impossible for me as I grew up. However, I made it through and now as a young adult, I've shown that I can overcome those challenges and live a normal life. Because people have given so much to me, I'm also learning to give back to others by volunteering once a week at Victoria General Hospital.

For the past 3 years, I have had a job at Pet Smart. As someone who struggles with social situations and meeting new people, I wasn't sure how I would be able to handle a job, but Pet Smart changed that. I had a job coach who had helped me after being unsuccessful in finding a job on my own. My job coach arranged an interview with the manager of Pet Smart in Victoria, BC Canada, named Mark Bradley.

As most people feel before an interview, my nerves were multiplied tenfold. I just didn't know what to expect and how the store would perceive me. I also wasn't very hopeful as I'd had a previous interview for another store that did not go well. Well, long story short: I met Mark the manager and he offered me the opportunity to get some work experience with them before he hired me part-time. It was a good way to see if it was a good fit for both of us. So I began my work term experience for 3 weeks in the animal care department. I liked it, they liked me, and so on August 15, 2010, I officially became a Pet Smart employee.

I started off working in the Pet Care department. After 2 years on the job, I asked my supervisors if I could learn something new, so they trained me on the cash register. The past 3 years here have been some of the best of my life; I have learned lots of new skills, made some new friends, and best of all, I've learned to believe in myself and my abilities. If I can do it, anyone can! A big thank you to the manager, Mark Bradley, for finally giving me a chance and believing in me when no one else would. Oh, and by the way, I still don’t get most jokes!

You can learn more about National Disability Employment Awareness Month here.