The Real World Myth

Recently, one of my co-workers, a shift supervisor, asked our office manager if she could order a weighted stuffed animal and a swinging chair for her office for the children we serve. Many of the children we serve are from foster care and juvenile probation. Many have experienced trauma and suffer from anxiety, and some are neurodivergent. Items like a weighted animal to hold or a chair to swing in provide sensory input that might help them to regulate. I have these items in my office because I realize their usefulness. Her request was denied; she was told that the kids must learn other ways to handle their anxiety because they will not have access to these items in the “real world.” I internally rolled my eyes when her request was denied because the “real world” is subjective to each person who lives in it. I pulled the shift supervisor to the side and said she would probably have to purchase these herself, as I had, because many people do not realize the value of sensory input.

It was the next day that I found this graphic from NeuroWild. I was glad to see it because it put my thoughts into words I could not express. Our offices, classrooms, and shared places can express our personalities and approach as childcare providers. We often include items we think the kids will like and attempt to create a welcoming environment. Many times, we succeed. Unfortunately, our biggest barrier to providing welcoming, calming, and inducive environments is sometimes the administrators where we work. They put a lot of emphasis on preparing children and youth for the “real world” without realizing that our classroom environments play a factor in preparing children and youth to live independently.

As a millennial, I grew up being told I wouldn’t always have access to a calculator or a phone. I had to learn how to do math their way because of this. To this day, I do not make change by adding and subtracting in the way I was taught. Then, the advent of cell phones happened, and I now have music, a calculator, and a literal access point to the world from my smartphone. When we limit access to only things accessible in the “real world,” we limit coping and emotional regulation strategies for youth and children.

Providing access to these materials during childhood and adolescence helps youth learn how to regulate their bodies. Many who study neuroscience will back me up on this: Sensory input is vital for learning about calming strategies and how to regulate our bodies. While there are things we can do that do not require outside input, there are many things we should be doing for youth, including taking their comfort, needs, and ideas to provide such input. Children know their bodies and needs more than adults do. They do not need adults telling them they can’t use an item because of the “real world.”

To conclude this diatribe, I want to add that children and youth who are neurodivergent, have an IEP, or have behaviors of concern are not the only ones who benefit from having access to items that make them more comfortable; everybody does. Most of us have that old cardigan that is amazing to wear, have some memento in our workplace, or ways of providing comfort during our work hours. Why do we deny such things to children?

Categories Advocacy, Residential, Story
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