I Don’t Prepare My Autistic Children for the Real World Because It Doesn’t Exist.

Guest Post by Kimberly Collins

The real world won’t coddle your child like that.

You’re doing a disservice to your child. They won’t be ready for the real world if you let them get away with that.

Things don’t work that way in the real world.

These are just a few statements parents of autistic children hear from professionals, teachers, and well-meaning, yet intrusive family members when we parent our children in a compassionate, respectful way.

Apparently there is a defined real world out there that everyone – but us – got the memo on. But what does that mean?  Actually, scratch that question. Unless you’ve ever recorded a song while singing and walking down the middle of a bowling alley with a camel next to you, I’m not interested in your interpretation of the Real World. “

If you don’t get that reference,

  1. I hope I at least got your attention.
  2. I’m sorry you were born after MTV stopped playing music videos.
Quote by J. Milburn "Childhood is a necessary part of development... childhood in its purest form... not chldhood as training for adulthood. You don't see caterpillars practicing flying. Nature knows what it's doing. We need to stop trying to change something that was never meant to be changed."
Quote by J. Milburn “Childhood is a necessary part of development… childhood in its purest form… not chldhood as training for adulthood. You don’t see caterpillars practicing flying. Nature knows what it’s doing. We need to stop trying to change something that was never meant to be changed.”

The real world is right there with adulthood. The goal posts are always moving. No matter how old we get, there’s always one more step, or ten more years to go until being a real adult feels right. Similarly, this fictitious real world – that our children are not prepared for – is always around the corner, and never actually shows up.

From the moment someone is born, they are living in, and are a part of the world. Childhood is just as valid a part of someone’s life as adulthood is – It’s not a training module. Children are socializing, problem-solving, learning and accomplishing tasks, amongst most other adult-like activities.

Our children should not be expected to act like thirty-something year old adults, because they’re not, in fact, thirty-something year old adults. They have around 20-40 years less practice than we do. Their needs are different. They’re still learning, and doing what they’re capable of doing, for their age and ability.

Yes, work takes the form of school, in whichever way we decide to school our children. Running errands looks like basic chores, based on the child’s ability. Self care looks like advocating for their needs by expressing their likes and dislikes. This applies to all children, regardless of neurotype.

Quote by Alfie Kohn - Children, after all, are not just adults-in-the-making. They are people whose current needs and rights and experiences must be taken seriously."
Quote by Alfie Kohn – Children, after all, are not just adults-in-the-making. They are people whose current needs and rights and experiences must be taken seriously.”

This type of developmentally appropriate parenting comes under even harsher criticism when parenting autistic children. The support our kids need often looks different from what their nonautistic peers require. As parents, that means we should adjust our parenting strategies accordingly.

When our kids have sensory aversions, we should give them appropriate tools to help them cope.

If a food is too much of a sensory aversion for them to handle, no matter what, we shouldn’t force them to “deal with it.” If they could deal with it, they would. It’s a lot easier than constantly being told how difficult they are.

When their executive functioning decides to not work on a particular day, we should help develop plans, and maybe even execute those plans with them. We should advocate for appropriate accommodations throughout all of their environments, including school, church, activities, and even at home.

That all just sounds like respectful parenting to me.

To believe that autistic children will be unprepared for the real world, one has to believe that the real world does not have any supports or understanding people once a person reaches a certain age.

“But what about my kid that only eats beige foods?!”  Umm… when was the last time that someone monitored what you ate? Why did you let them?  As adults we choose what goes on our plates. Yes, even at big holiday family meals.

If an autistic adult only puts turkey, mashed potatoes and a roll on their plate, no one is even going to pay attention. It’s weird how people are constantly trying to make children eat things they don’t like (because that’s part of the real world) while they themselves get the freedom to turn down any food they want without explanation.

Lavender words on a black background - The future is accessible.
Lavender words on a black background – The future is accessible.

A Real World Example

Cooking has always been an executive functioning nightmare for me, that is deemed necessary to get by in the real world. I constantly hear about my kids’ inability to cook (because of their own reasons) and how they won’t be able to survive as adults without that skill.

I don’t cook, and have spent all of my life avoiding cooking at any cost. I cannot keep track of all of the different steps of all of the different pots and pans that I am using, when everything is done or needs something done with it.

Thankfully, technology is available in the actual world, and it’s becoming more accessible. Just tonight, I finally got brave enough to make some grilled chicken breasts in the grill that my husband got me for Christmas. I turned on my grill, selected the “grill” option. Then I selected the temperature that I wanted for the chicken. I hit start. I didn’t expect this appliance to basically hold my hand throughout the process and cook the meat by itself.

The display showed me that it was preheating, with a visual bar showing me the progress. When it was done preheating a chime went off, and the display told me to “add meat”. Throughout the entire process, the grill did all of the executive functioning for me.

I heard a chime whenever I needed to do the next step (flip meat, remove meat, let the meat rest, and food is ready). I also had a visual display for everyone of those steps telling me what to do, including the grill automatically setting the timer for me when I removed the meat.

It was the best homemade chicken breasts I’ve had, cooked perfectly. It was definitely the first food I have ever cooked that I have taken a picture of – I was that happy with it.

Focusing on Accessibility

Nondisabled people use supports and accessibility products all the time without anyone questioning them. In fact, they’re called life hacks. Disabled people often use the same supports. The difference is the lens they’re viewed through – Our use of support is often frowned upon and pathologized.

This graphic shows how accessibility tools are used every day. It can help to find these parallels when advocating for your children, or helping them advocate for themselves.

An infographic showing how "life hacks" or accessibility tools are pathologized when disabled people use them. (It's trash.)
An infographic showing how “life hacks” or accessibility tools are pathologized when disabled people use them. (It’s trash.)

At this point you may be thinking,  Fine. But how do you know that they wouldn’t have done better if they weren’t coddled and their parents prepared them for the real world?

My answer: ‘80s parenting. I grew up undiagnosed. That probably was a blessing in some ways. But even if my mom would have believed that I was autistic, I would have had to deal with it because no one is going to help you when you’re older. You need to learn how to succeed in the real world.

I didn’t get supports, other than speech therapy. I was left to deal with everything else on my own so I wasn’t different from my peers. Did that prepare me for the real world?  Ha!  I would have done much better had I learned strategies to advocate for my needs, and to ask for appropriate supports.

As a child, I felt a lot of shame for what made me different. As much as people tried to ignore what differences I had, they didn’t go away just because I was left unsupported. As a teenager, I completely withdrew from my environment and social situations. I made one friend, who was also autistic, although we didn’t know that at the time.

I struggled and failed way more than I ever should have. As an adult I went through autistic burnout. As someone who just learned in my 30’s that I should advocate for myself, and then how to do so, the fallout from that still follows me around to this day – from activities, of daily life, to social relationships, to much more.

On the other hand, my children have been raised with all of the supports that I can identify they need help with. My children have a strong sense of pride. They aren’t afraid to ask for help or to advocate for themselves. When they don’t hit arbitrary goals, they aren’t ashamed because of that.

They already take strategies from supports that they have grown up with and apply them to new strategies. They seek out their neurokin, because they know that they will have the easiest time building relationships with people who understand them. I wish the same for all of our children.

Send Kimberly a tip on Cash App!

Kimberly's boop noodle (snake) named Walnut.

Kimberly Collins is a funny person who lives on Earth, but came from Mars. She has a pet boop noodle named Walnut. He is the best boop noodle, but he hates technology.

Kimberly likes coffee and sleep. She gets made fun of but it’s ok, it was funny. Me and Meghan make fun of her. She has a 0 to 2 win/loss ratio against trees in video games and swears at colors but it’s ok, it was funny. 

She likes the Legend of Zelda but isn’t that good at it. One time she got attacked by 8 goblins and got destroyed so she let me do it instead and I killed them all in one attempt and it was funny.

She homeschools me and my brother. She lives with dad, me and my brother, and 2 dogs and 2 boop noodles that snuggle with each other. She does book club and has two friends. We just kinda sit here and do nothing so there is not much to talk about. Sequels coming to a theater near you.

4 Replies to “I Don’t Prepare My Autistic Children for the Real World Because It Doesn’t Exist.”

  1. Interesting. I know a couple of parents with autistic children, and they are definitely taking a different path than Kimberly. But what stuck out to me is this: “deal with it because no one is going to help you when you’re older. You need to learn how to succeed in the real world.”

    I think that quote applies to everything else in life, autism or not, and was a great reminder for me.

    Great post by Kimberly, and thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I feel like my almost 12 yr old with Autism is being pushed hard at school to learn things that won’t be of us to her when she’s grown. I really wish we had a school here that focused on what they need to learn. I try to do as much as I can at home

    Liked by 1 person

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