A lot of parents of children with developmental disabilities ask themselves and their peers, “will my child ever lead a normal, independent life?” The perception that young people with autism and other developmental disabilities will always be dependents centers the entire discussion of independence in the wrong framework. Indeed most of what society has deemed “normal” is a facade and changes all the time. Think about what was considered normal progression 100 years ago. We change as a society and global population all the time. Instead, people in the service and care field focus on the development of executive functions, skill sets and goal setting as measures of independence. In that regard, many young people are capable of living a very independent life.
Some people think of independence as the ability to “grow up” by moving out and pursuing one’s own goals when a child has reached a symbolic age marker that grants them the status of adulthood. 13 in the Jewish tradition marks adulthood, while in the US, we become adults at 18, even though 17 year olds can join the military as an adult. The world over has different markers for what defines the age we decide should mark independence and yet many kids still live at home past the age of 22, which is the age limit that IDEA allows young adults with autism to attend school. Many of the millennial generation are still living at home with their parents providing for their needs. What all this means is that our arbitrary definitions for what is considered independent might be skewed.
Many of those that are considered “independent” are reliant on assistance to accomplish their goals and manage their needs. A marriage is a partnership and a loving bond, but it’s also two people tending to one another’s needs and that’s without children. Simply relying on someone to help you with certain needs is not a good enough marker to indicate that a person is independent. People with developmental disabilities might need assistance or take longer to reach traditional “independence” and some people might never be able to fully reach that level, but we need to be slower to dismiss the independence of young people with disabilities.
Why Parents And Guardians Need To Lead On Independence
Does your child have interests and passions as well as skills that they seem to be adept at? These are signs of independence blooming and should be what you focus on as a parent. If your child has the chance to succeed, instead of being told that they will never accomplish markers of a “normal” life, parents and guardians are the first resource that can help a young person develop independence.
Encouragement and a focus on development, rather than hinderance is the key to success. Don’t focus on the cases of young people that are dependent on care for their entire lives. Even their journey toward independence is filled with landmarks that might not be obvious to the casual observer. Instead, think about it this way: the rate at which people are diagnosed with autism has risen since the 70s, but the understanding, awareness and the ability to diagnose autism has also risen dramatically. Imagine all the people that have lived their lives independently without ever being told that autism would always limit them. This is how we need to frame our understanding of the discussion.
Replacing “If” With “How”
Encouraging independence for your child will start with conversation and evolve into action. Lydia Wayman, writer, speaker and advocate for people with autism and who has autism herself, had this to say to parents:
“Don’t ask if your child can do something—ask how he or she can do it. Find the bridge (support, skill) that will span the gap between now and the goal. Some goals seem impossible, but the surest way to keep it out of reach is if the adults give up. The child who grows up asking ‘how can I?’ learns to see challenges as a chance for creativity and growth. He or she will say: ‘I can and I will—watch me!’”
Start with changing your thinking and you will affect their understanding of themselves. If the conversation is goal driven, young people will learn to solve problems, instead of run into walls.
It’s not easy to be a parent and we all want to bring up our children to accomplish their goals, live independently and to live a safe, happy life. You can be a resource to your child and help them to gain their independence. If you need help, the professionals at Lexington Services are always there to offer guidance and support.
Lexington Supporting Independence
At Lexington, our aim is to help people from, children through adulthood, to expand their skills and foster a sense of independence. We have developed programs to help people accomplish their goals and expand their skills that are markers of independence. From Indepent Living Arrangements to our Adult Day programs and Therapies, Lexington Services has the resources to manage your loved ones needs and to help them transition to a greater sense of independence. Would you like to know more about Lexington? Contact our staff to schedule a tour or register for our services today.
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