The "Real" World.
The website notanautismmom.com was started by Meghan Ashburn, who is an educational consultant, professional development facilitator, and writer. She is passionate about helping teachers, schools, and districts create more inclusive and accessible environments for children. Kimberly Collins, guest-wrote for the Not an Autism Mom blog in January of 2022. She wrote an article titled, "I Don't Prepare my Autistic Children for the Real World Because It Doesn't Exist." She wrote this post to share the ways in which she supports and encourages her children in life to conquer their fears, reach beyond their boundaries, and make themselves uncomfortable. She starts by saying that the real world won't coddle your child and doing so will be doing more of a disservice to your child and they won't be prepared for the real world. She expresses that parents with children with autism hear statements of this nature, like saying "you shouldn't coddle them or things don't work like that in the real world" from friends, professionals, teachers, or family members when they are seen parenting their child in a compassionate and respectful way. Collins describes that the real world is out there for everyone because it comes with adulthood, however, everyone who reaches adulthood never truly feels as if they are an adult. She says, "this fictitious "real world" that our children are not prepared for is always around the corner, and never actually shows up." From the moment a child is born, they become a part of the "real world." Childhood is just as much a part of someone's life as adulthood; it is not just a training module for the rest of their life. Children are socializing, problem-solving, and learning and accomplishing tasks, much like adults do every day. Children should not be expected to behave like thirty-somethings because they are not; they have different needs. They are still learning and trying to do what they are capable of for their age and ability. Work takes the form of school, in whichever way you decide they be taught, and running errands looks like basic chores, based on the child's ability. Self-care comes in the form of advocating for their needs and expressing their likes and dislikes. For parents of children with autism, this form of developmentally appropriate parenting comes with even harsher criticisms. Parents in these scenarios should adjust their parenting strategies because the support that their children need looks differently than that of their non-autistic peers. Kids who have sensory aversions need to be given the tools to help them cope. For example, if a certain food is too much of a sensory aversion for them to handle, they should not be forced to deal with it, because if they could, they would. When their executive functioning decides not to work on a particular day, they need help developing plans and executing them as well as someone who will advocate for them for appropriate accommodations in all environments. Collins says, "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." So, now let's focus on accessibility. People without "disabilities" use support and accessibility products all the time; they call them "life hacks." The lens in which these tools are viewed is different than those who need accessibility tools due to difference in ability. For example, "normal" people listen to podcasts while they're busy exercising, driving, or cleaning, but disabled people may listen to audio books because they have a hard time reading little fonts and texts. Collins shares her own struggles with autism and what her experiences were during childhood and that because she went undiagnosed for so long, she was left to figure it out; which might have helped her in the long run. She was given any supports other than speech therapy and she claims she would have been much better off had she learned to advocate for her own needs and ask for the appropriate supports. She explains that she felt a lot of shame for what made her different and even though everyone around her tried to ignore her differences, they didn't go away just because she was unsupported. By the time she was an adult, she experienced some autistic burnout due to the struggles and failures she experienced throughout her childhood. Because of her experiences, she has chosen to raise her children with all the supports they could need, especially if she can identify them. This gives her children a strong sense of pride and makes them unafraid to ask for help, and when they don't hit their "goals," they're not ashamed of themselves because of that. This is what all children deserve and they can achieve this sense of self with the right support from parents and teachers who will hear their concerns and struggles and advocate for them to get the tools they need to succeed.