"Well, they've got to live in the real world"
Words most of us have heard at some point, usually when supports are being denied, because somehow, magically, a lack of support will make our children buck up and jolly well pull themselves together.
The real world is a place where bog standard autistic people aren't appreciated. I don't mean the ones like Bill Gates, Einstein, Dan Ayckroyd, all autistics (or suspected autistics) who have, against the odds, become decent, hardworking humans (tongue firmly in cheek here, because it's not against the odds at all, these are people who've been able to carve their own niche and use their skills in a way that is denied to so many), I'm talking about the ones who are unable to find suitable employment, the ones who are more likely to attempt suicide. This is the real world and it's not one we should be proud of.
The other day I was talking to my daughter about school. Whilst we've had concerns about her anxiety, her black and white thinking which can lead her into trouble, she is not autistic, she navigates the social side of things with ease, and has taught me a lot about people through honest discussions.
She may have stated the obvious, but when she explained to me about how to get on in school, it was a real lightbulb moment as to why my two sons didn't cope, why I hated school, why so many autistic children are bullied.
There are unspoken rules at play. These are the ones which enable a child to know which teachers respond to light hearted cheekiness, which don't, which you can have banter with, get away with breaking minor school rules with if you play the game right, and which teachers you need to be on best behaviour with at all times. These same rules apply to banter with fellow pupils, recognising intent with ease, knowing if someone is being genuine or not, knowing if someone is up for a laugh or needing to be quiet.
This is a big reason why autistic people struggle. How on earth can you tell which teacher respects a more outgoing, open approach, and even if you can identify that teacher, how do you perform in a way that is at odds with your personality?
These are the things that come to some children naturally, and some less so. These are things that can mark children out as disruptive, naughty, rude, the class clown, things that can leave our children desperately confused and frustrated, because try as they might, it is incredibly difficult to fit in when these skills do not come naturally. How do you know that someone's vicious words are intended as harmless teasing? You don't. And if you attempt the same back, chances are it will be misjudged and backfire, or will be done to the wrong person, the right words to the wrong teacher.
When our children grow up they will face interviews in order to find a job. Only recently I was talking to someone who had hired someone for a job, and in the process turned down other applicants. Amongst them was someone who was more than qualified for the job, had experience, good references, but they didn't make it past the interview stage because they were shifty, they wouldn't give eye contact and obviously had something to hide. At no point did the interviewer consider that there may be a reason for this, and this seems to be typical for "the real world". Difference is not tolerated. Difference is a green light to bully, to humiliate, to judge and to dismiss in favour of people who may not be as qualified, or talented, but have a collection of social skills which people in the real world are impressed with.
Decent schools and workplaces tend to be the exception rather than the rule. It is often up to autistic people to be able to beat the odds and succeed, but when they do, this is held up against other autistics who for whatever reason haven't been able to succeed, they're seen as not trying, or choosing to behave in a way that isolates them.
The unspoken rules also cover ambiguous language. My daughter may well be able to read through vague words which on the face of it may sound like "no, you don't have to do that", and instead can interpret the silent "you don't have to, but to prove to me how dedicated you are, you will" which means a step forward to impressing and succeeding, where my oldest would not understand this at all, something that has backfired on him and led to unfair accusations of laziness and lack of stamina, and possible breakdown of a pocket money job he has held for almost two years. The real world doesn't seem terribly interested in giving opportunities to those of us who struggle with the unspoken rules.
The real world values flattery, a method of reading what someone wants to hear, being able to pick up on someone's insecurities and vanities in order to get what you want out of people. Flattery gets you everywhere apparently. As an aside, I loathe flattery, and I lose respect for people who respond to flattery, I don't believe they see the real person, they see the ability of the person to glide gracefully through a conversation, manipulating as they go along, and getting away with it because no-one wants to admit they were daft enough to fall for it!
Jobs tend to go to the people who get the rules, who can turn on the charm, who can easily converse, give eye contact and follow all those social cues that are regarded as so important, even though these things give few clues as to how skilled and loyal a worker they will be, or how much of an asset to a company they will be. Autistic people may flounder under the pressure of an interview, unexpected questions designed to throw the candidate to see what imaginative answer they can come up with, it's not an environment where we can shine.
Life isn't easy, growing up, moving through the process of education to the world of employment, with a constant barrage of expectations which can be difficult for us to meet. To non-autistic people it may be very simple to do what you need to do, and assume that it's the same for everyone else, when it isn't.
To an autistic person, school, work, socialising can all be difficult and fraught with stressors that you cannot fully prepare yourself for, even without this silent language that we're meant to understand on top of everything else.
If you still can't understand why only 16% of autistic adults are in full time employment, and you still can't see why suicide feels like a valid option, then you need to make sure that you learn and listen. But don't do it in a way that so many empathyless people do; listen then decide we're lying, being dramatic, or scroungers, or that we're weirdo freaks that don't deserve to be listened to anyway. Listen to us without an agenda.
I've now seen first hand how catastrophic a work break up can be, and it was all entirely preventable. Autism led to needless misunderstandings, and have resulted in a boy knowing beyond shadow of a doubt that he is useless. Any resilience he had has been wiped out with a few cruel words, and all because too many people feel the need to speak in riddles instead of being clear. And they say we're the ones with impairments.