My job, for the past fourteen years, has sometimes been called “Independence Facilitator” as well as Instructional Aide. Working with students who are diagnosed with severe autism, I used to think that this title was unattainable for many students knowing that they would never be living on their own. Now that I work in an Adult Transition class, I see the culmination of what our district offers to students prior to receiving their certificate of completion. We concentrate on life-skills, functional skills and job training. My students take pride in their work and their abilities. Colleagues have asked me, “Will any of your students ever be truly independent?” I asked myself that question too and my answer led to another question…
What Is Independence?
I used to consider myself an independent adult, but here is just a brief list that proves that, in reality, I am not fully independent:
- I enjoy working in my garden, but I am dependent on my gardener to keep my lawn mowed weekly.
- I can flush a toilet, but if it doesn’t flush properly, I am dependent on my husband to figure out the problem.
- I can care for my daughter, but if she has a health issue, I am dependent on medications or a doctor.
- I am dependent on “Google” to help me efficiently navigate the internet.
- I can take the trash cans out to the curb weekly, but I am dependent on the waste disposal company to take it to the dump or recycle center.
- I can drive my car around town, but if I have car trouble, I rely on my auto mechanic.
- I am able to handle my family’s financial matters, but I rely on the bank to process my checks and payments properly.
In reality, none of us is truly independent. Actually, life would be really boring if we could do everything ourselves. We all live in a community and rely or DEPEND on those in our family, schools and communities for many of the little and big things in life.
For those who are impacted by autism or other challenges in life, we all can be independent to some degree, but we ALL need to rely on others for things that challenge us. Being independent is different for each of us. For some, it will be living with our parents and going to a day program. For many, it will be being the sole resident in their own house. Appropriate independence can be living in a group home with some assistance. For some, just being living examples of positive attitudes in the spite of major challenges is truly inspiring.
My challenge for us is to put on “lenses of love” and see the potential that we all have to be whatever “independent” means for each of us – not just a narrow view of independence that the world sometimes portrays.