Starbucks provides a springboard for athlete with Autism

When John and Sharlyn Taylor first sent their son Carter to the counter at a Starbucks in Dunfermline, Scotland, their objective was to make him more comfortable placing an order and handling money. They didn’t envision that in time he’d work on the other side of that counter.

Carter is on the autism spectrum. He spoke little as a child and it’s difficult for him to maintain eye contact. His parents addressed his challenges growing up with sign language and an emphasis on gestures, as well as finding environments where he could feel secure as he learned to more effectively interact with others.

The Taylors began coming to the Dunfermline Starbucks shortly after it opened eight years ago. It was a place where Carter could feel at home and gradually extend his comfort zone.

“The team began to get to know Carter and he was a delight to serve and watch grow from this shy schoolboy into a confident customer,” said store manager Gina Lowe.

Gina also became friendly with Carter’s parents. One day when talking with them, she spontaneously suggested that Carter might be a welcome addition to her Starbucks team.

“I never really went looking to recruit him,” recalled Gina, an 11-year Starbucks partner (employee). “The opportunity just arose. He is such a well-known character in the town and I saw it as an easy fit.”

A core member of the Starbucks store team

While the Taylors appreciated the offer, they harbored some misgivings.

“At first, we had mixed emotions and thoughts,” recalled John. “We were overwhelmed and delighted by the opportunity for him – a very rare opportunity in society. But what soon followed were the what-ifs: What if the staff didn’t understand him? What if something went wrong?”

Gina and the Carters settled on a trial period for Carter. Soon, however, he’d become a store mainstay, moving from clearing tables and stocking to more advanced tasks.

“What Carter often says is, ‘I want to work at Starbucks forever,’ and that sums it up,” said Gina. “He is now a valued, important and core member of the team and has the best can-do attitude to do anything we ask of him. This connection with the family has allowed us to develop Carter beyond anything his parents and I thought was possible.”

“The change we have seen from Carter have been phenomenal, not only in gaining new skills, but developing those social skills he struggles with,” said his father. “Carter immediately became part of a very special team of people who support him and develop him, but also challenge him.”

Meeting more challenges on water skies

Challenge has been an important element in Carter’s growth. While he gained confidence working at Starbucks, he also began showing unanticipated skills at a nearby loch. Given a voucher for waterskiing lessons, his enthusiasm could be seen in his ready smile when he took to the water and unwavering commitment to master the sport.

His coaches and fellow competitors saw him develop, his strong build and dedication helping him rise through the ranks. When others might take a day off when confronted with inhospitable weather, Carter could be found skimming along the surface at the National Training Site in Dunfermline with increasing flair.

The 20-year-old’s training with Scottish Disability Sport and Waterski and Wakeboard Scotland has produced remarkable results, including slalom wins last year at the Scottish Open and Scottish Native He earned a bronze medal in Division One of the British Ski Leave, qualifying for the Premier Division in the British Ski League. He’s among the top five slalom skiers to ever come out of Scotland and stands at 26th in the UK for slalom.

Carter’s father believes the combined impact of his successes at Starbucks and as an athlete (he also runs and swims competitively) have transformed his son.

“He now has greater social skills, has gained confidence to deal with others, has a circle of friends and a huge amount of pride in what he does,” said John. “We also believe his colleagues have a great respect and understanding that Carter being different is not only OK, but is what makes him so very unique and gifted.”