Today I agreed to present to a group of parents and teachers on how to prepare students on the Autism Spectrum for the "Real World." The obvious question is, how do you define what the "Real World" is?
So I asked my tribe for their thoughts on the matter and the responses were fascinating. Here are a few of them . . .
- The world that you are in is the real one. Just as the world that I'm in is the real one. Just be you and everything will be fine.
- Isn't the saying true that "you are what you make it"? What is real for you isn't an issue for some, and what isn't an issue for you is the consuming world for others. Or vice-versa....
- You know...often when I hear people talk about living in the "real world," they are usually referring to the drudgery of life and the junk stuff you have to deal with everyday. Not a happy sentiment. I think being grounded is a good thing as well as learning how to manage life. But, we could all use a little more dreaming and the asking ourselves the "what if" scenario. Looking for ways to make things better. : )
- The world is as connected or disconnected to you as you want it to be. How much do you want to give of your real self to strangers and to the ones closest to you is always the question.
- We are all different and we all live in our different worlds. The real world does not accept people who are different so I guess I will do my best to live the way I want.
- Having to live in the real world means putting up with the bureaucratic bullshit and human pettiness in order to earn money to take care of our families.
- For me, 'living in the real world' means realizing my place in the dynamics of my family and my community and straining the boundaries as I see them on a daily basis. For my son, 'living in the real world' means making no excuses for who he is and knowing he can make a difference in his life and the lives of others. I like that, too.
It's REAL Personal
As I suspected, the Real World is best described as your experience of it. More specifically, it's how you experience it while trying to solve the every day problems of your life. Problems such as providing for your family, being accepted by peers, creating and maintaining relationships, finding and keeping a job etc.
This morning I was at the gym and a group of loud guys came into the locker room after playing a sport together and were aggressively trash talking each other, swearing and talking about how bad this person sucked and so on. I suspect their real world is highly competitive and one in which physical weakness is taken advantage of for personal gain.
My world isn't competitive, it's cooperative. Sure you could say sports are cooperative in that one team cooperates in competition with another. But in my world, cooperation isn't the in your face alpha male crap the guys at the gym seemed to be celebrating.
My father spent his working life working 12 hour days or longer, climbing ladders, working in cramped crawl spaces, and hot warehouses installing security systems in order to support his family. When I decided to study social work in college he responded angrily, "What they hell are you going to do with that? You can't make a living with that? You need a trade, you need to be able to work with your hands."
Looking back I can see how being immersed in the world as it was for him narrowed his view of what he felt the world offered and what the world could be. Fortunately I didn't beleive him in that instance and here I am today as a result.
You Have To Be Independent
I'm consistently told by the parents of my clients that they want their child to grow up to be independent. Independent so they can survive in the REAL WORLD. They want them to be able to make their own decisions and not have to rely on others. This objective goes right out the window the moment I ask them, "Do you do that?" "Do you go through life without asking for help or advice from others?" The answer is inexorably "No."
The fact is that independence never occurs in a world where we are bound together by our own humanity which makes us good at some things and not so good at others. The notion of not having to rely on others is an absurd fantasy. In reality the nature of human existence is one of interdependence from the day we are born until the day we die.
The challenge with being on the Autism Spectrum isn't to be interdependent either because we're interdependent whether we like it or not. The goal is to be strategically interdependent in which case you know how to have relationships with the right people who will support you in your areas of challenge. You know, when you're lousy at something you find a person who can help you to the degree you need it in order to help you solve the problems of your every day life so you can live in the real world.
I have my own business, have written several books and am raising my three boys. I owe my success in part to my own strengths and even more so to the quality of the people around me whom I utilize very strategically. The most simple examples of strategic interdependence are having a mechanic when your car breaks, a doctor when you get sick or an accountant to do your taxes.
The best examples of strategic interdependence are the person who goes with you to buy a car so you aren't suckered by a fast talking salesperson, the person who helps you practice for a job interview or the person who befriends you and helps you meet others. Success in life isn't defined by not having to rely on others and making decisions on your own. Success in life is defined by relying on the right people, at the right time and in the right way. It's also by asking for advice from those who are qualified to give it.
Easier Said Than Done
When I discuss strategic interdependence with people I hear the following responses more often than not, "But I can't find people like that?" "But no one will help me," or worst of all "The real world doesn't work that way." Speaking from my own real world experience, all of these responses are dead wrong.
If you can't find those people it's because you're looking in places those people aren't (if you're looking at all). Spending more time with characters in video games than searching for the people who have the information you need won't prepare you for life. Spending hours on end day after day looking for advice from people in online chat rooms will only reinforce your thinking about how limited the world is because you're talking to people who's ideas are no better than you're own.
If no one will help you it comes down to who you're asking, what you're asking them for and whether you are willing to be helped in the first place. If you refuse support and consider it an insult when it's offered then stop throwing a hissy fit when things don't work out for you.
The real world requires you to first know 1) What you want, 2) How to create it, and 3) Getting the knowledge, skills and the people you need to create it. The difference between a person who struggles every day of their lives versus the person who seems to have it made is the difference between how much time and effort they put into building their lives in those three areas.
Is it hard as hell to do all that, absolutely! But what do you want the real world to be like for you?
The well known serenity prayer asks in part "to grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."
In my experience, those words are exactly what the real world is. If you can't change it, you must adjust to it or find an accommodation to manage it. If you can change it, negotiate it or refine it then step up and make it happen. The alternative is to fall into the paralysis of learned helpless in which you come to believe the real world is a cruel and ugly place. Which it can often feel like, unless you are committed until your dying breath as I am to change that.
As hard as it is for spectrumites, beleive it or not, we've come a long way in this world in terms of getting the help needed for people with challenges. We have a long way to go but history proves change is possible, necessary, inevitable and has happened. So keep going.
The wisdom that allows you to tell the difference between what you can and can't change is in the following question. If I want this specific aspect of my life to change, what knowledge do I need, what skill must I learn, what people do I need to help me make that change? If you can put all those pieces in place you can change it. If you are unable to or unwilling to then the real world is the status quo.
My success in life has been by doing exactly that and teaching my sons as well as my clients to do the same. We only make it in life with each other, working together in strategic partnerships. The secret lies in having those few key people around us that can help us live up to our potential by doing with us instead of doing for us as much as possible. But this is just the world I live in.
We're All In This Together.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brian R. King is the Founder of www.SpectrumMentor.com and creator of ASRA (The Autism Spectrum Relationship Academy). An accomplished adult on the Autism Spectrum who is raising three sons on the Autism Spectrum, has garnered worldwide attention for his groudbreaking insights and strategies for improving communication and relationships between Spectrumites and Neurotypicals.