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Get to Know Joanna Bush, ASNC Bookstore Employee

Joanna Bush and Mary Collins

Mary Collins and Joanna Bush

Joanna Bush excels at spelling and math, and her organizational and clerical skills make her a valued employee of the Autism Society of North Carolina Bookstore. But the 31-year-old with autism brings something else to her several part-time jobs: a chance to educate the people around her.

“It creates more acceptance for someone like Joanna, and really anybody else who has autism, when people come across them,” said her mother, Charlene Bush.

Joanna, who was diagnosed with autism at age 7, has memorized some sentences that she speaks aloud and can use small utterances, her mother said. Joanna also communicates through writing. “When she goes into a workplace where people don’t typically see a lot of people with autism, they’re amazed by the fact that she could do what she could do given that she has this pretty big deficit with expressive language and so many issues with sensory management,” her mother said.

For Joanna, the ASNC Bookstore is a perfect place to use her strengths in a calm, quiet setting. “She really enjoys doing it, and she feels very competent. It obviously promotes self-confidence, which is so important,” Charlene said.

Joanna’s aide, Mary Collins, agrees that working in the bookstore gives Joanna “a tremendous feeling of worth.” Mary, a habilitation technician, has worked with Joanna for a little over a year and spends two days a week with her.

Joanna has worked at the bookstore since early 2010, fulfilling many duties: packing orders to be shipped, shelving books in the correct order, pulling materials for events, pricing, shredding, dusting, tidying, and copying. “She knows where everything belongs,” Mary said. “Sometimes if I forget something, she’ll remind me.”

Kate Hall, director of operations for ASNC, said, “The Autism Society of North Carolina Bookstore is unique in that it lives out our mission to provide support and promote opportunities through employing individuals with ASD. Our bookstore staff, like Joanna, gain job skills and independence. Joanna’s contributions are vital to the bookstore, and she is a joy to work with.”

Joanna also uses the media machine for postage and marks on a large map all the locations to which the bookstore has shipped. “She loves doing that map,” Mary said.

At home in Raleigh with her parents, Joanna enjoys doing art, baking treats, and using the computer for games, YouTube, or wikis.

The routine of getting out of the house to work on a regular schedule is beneficial to Joanna, who is calmer because of the consistency, Mary said. Joanna also works in libraries and for Special Olympics. Mary said the pair are working on communication and socialization, making sure to say hello and goodbye to co-workers each day. She would like Joanna to be able to explain what is wrong if she is angry or hurt.

“I’ve got the greatest amount of respect for her,” said Mary, adding that she and Joanna have built a relationship of love and trust. “She’s not only very smart, she’s very loving.”

Mary’s husband recently had a heart attack. When she came back to work with Joanna, Mary did not talk about her husband, but she said Joanna could tell something was wrong. Joanna looked right in her eyes, which she doesn’t usually do, and said “sad” three times. “She’s extra sensitive to my moods. She could really feel that,” Mary said.

“I feel very privileged to work with her.”


The ASNC Bookstore employs several adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder; ASNC believes meaningful employment is a key part of a fulfilling life.

Please visit the ASNC Bookstore at, our newly revamped website. All proceeds from the bookstore are returned to ASNC, where they help fund our mission to improve the lives of individuals with autism and their families by providing support and promoting opportunities.

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