Autism, Anxiety and Public Meltdowns

So I am left to wonder if Sam’s Club really cares about it’s disabled members. It’s clear from the behaviour of the representatives today that they don’t listen to their members with autism when they clearly communicate that they are unable to do something.

Speaking on the telephone is triggering for me, so much to the point that every time a phone near me begins to ring I flinch and can feel my chest begin to tighten. I really don’t know why this happens, but it does. It’s not something that I can simply get over, I simply cannot speak on the phone to anyone with the exception of my wife. She is literally the only person I can speak on the phone with without having a complete meltdown. This isn’t something that I’m proud of and it really makes my life difficult because everyone wants to communicate via telephone when I would much rather prefer communicating through e-mail, or if I must in person.

This morning my wife and I made a trip to Sam’s Club, less than a month ago we purchased a Plus Membership so that I would be able to shop in the early morning without too much noise and therefore, stress. At least, this was our hopes. Since the store was nearly empty, as it was about 7:15 in the morning, walking around the store wasn’t stressful. It was quiet and we were thankful for being able to shop when there were so few people around.

I’m very sensitive to noise and a simple trip to the grocery store can leave me in a near meltdown if there are too many people.

We went to the Self-Checkout to purchase our items, because I don’t mesh well with people. It’s not that I hate them, or think I’m better than them, I simply don’t understand them. I don’t understand why someone asks how I’m doing if they really don’t want to know or don’t care about the answer. My wife calls these things social niceties, and I’m very lacking in that department.

While we were checking out, the young woman that was in charge of the self-checkout area asked if we would like to apply for a Sam’s Club credit card. I was doubtful that I would actually be approved, but I suppose it never hurts to try. I don’t think I’d applied for anything credit wise in a while so the company pulling my credit report wouldn’t be too damaging to my credit score. I was given the application and my purchase was suspended so that I could take my application and order to Member Services.

I was told if I was approved that I would get $40 off my purchase, which really seemed nice since the total was nearly $220 worth of food for the week. I was given the ticket for everything that I had rung up and went to member services.

The woman behind the counter, I never got her name as she didn’t even bother to introduce herself or acknowledge my existence beyond demanding my driver’s license. I gave her my license and my membership card and waited while she hunt-and-pecked typed my information into the computer in front of her. After about ten or fifteen minutes she began to check out another person and started answering phones.

It was at this time that my wife asked the woman if there was a problem and wanted to know if this was going to take much longer. The woman behind the counter said she had to call someone because there was an error on the processing screen. She made that phone call and worked out the fact that no one had bothered to put the correct address on my member application when I first purchased the Plus Membership from Sam’s Club. I was starting to get edgy and regretted my decision to apply because I had about $75 worth of meat in my cart and I didn’t want it to get warm, and this woman that was supposed to be a customer service representative really didn’t seem to know how to do her job.

Suddenly the woman held the phone out to me and said “she need to talk to you”, I told her “I’m autistic, I cannot speak on the phone. My wife can speak for me.” She then proceeded to argue with me and tell me that I had to speak to the woman on the phone (what for I was never told) and kept shoving the phone in my face.

I kept telling her “I can’t talk on the phone, you don’t understand, I CAN’T DO IT.” I was doing everything that I could to keep from grabbing the phone from her hand and throwing it on the phone. I was nearly in tears and in the beginning of a total meltdown and struggling like hell to keep myself together because this woman wouldn’t listen to me. “I CAN’T DO IT.” I told her again and the woman glared at me and said “You don’t have to yell at me.”

“I’m not yelling! You’re not listening!”

At this point my wife asked for my membership card and my driver’s license back, and for a moment the woman began to refuse and tried to say she was going to check us out. I told her “I don’t want any of it. Put it all back, if you’re not going to understand that I am autistic and I have a disability then you’re not going to get my business, I will NEVER come back here again.”

I’m sure the entire front end of the store was staring at me as I struggled to keep from throwing myself on the ground. I grabbed my wife by the hand and went outside to my SUV as fast as I could manage so I could maintain what little dignity that I had left.

When I was in the safety of my vehicle I began bawling. It wasn’t fair. I wasn’t rude to the woman, I told her that I couldn’t do something because of my disability and she didn’t care. Why? Most people have no problem picking up a phone and calling someone and I cannot.

What happened to the customer is always right? I told the woman I couldn’t speak on the phone and she refused to listen.

My wife went back inside once I was in the truck and settled down enough for her to leave me so that she could speak to a manager about the woman’s behaviour. The only result from the conversation was the Asset Protection Manager said she would speak to the woman and possibly send her home for the rest of the day without pay.

My wife (and champion) called the corporate office for Sam’s Club to report this behaviour as well. This was beyond unacceptable and unprofessional. My wife explained to the CSR that she spoke to on the phone what had happened and was told that the store manager was supposed to call to talk to her about what had happened. As of yet that call hasn’t happened, and I doubt that it will. My wife was also told that I would be sent an email with the reference number of the case, another thing that hasn’t happened.

So I am left to wonder if Sam’s Club really cares about it’s disabled members. It’s clear from the behaviour of the representatives today that they don’t listen to their members with autism when they clearly communicate that they are unable to do something.

If I had been unable to speak and had to use sign language, would the woman have still shoved the phone in my face demanding that I speak to the faceless voice on the other end of the line, or would she have been more understanding? If my disability was visible for all the world to see, would she have listened then?


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