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Independence Vs. Interdependence & Autonomy

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

We are all for aiming high, presuming competence, and whole-heartedly believing in our students' abilities. This mindset can lead to creating goals for a hot topic in the autism community: INDEPENDENCE.


Independence is often associated with the ability to do things alone, without relying on others. Of course we all aim for our students to have as much independence as possible.


However, there are a few pitfalls to be aware of when working toward independence as a goal.


As always, we look toward nonspeaking voices for direction. Marrok is a researcher and PhD candidate at the Learning Science Research Institute at the University of Illinois. He communicates with text-based AAC. He is on the Advisory Counsel for Teva Community, where he shared his thoughts about independence:

"Independence means doing something alone, and I think this is a myth. Even people who say they go out and live in the woods alone and are independent had to bring tools with them, that someone else made, and then they are interdependent on non-human neighbors like trees and animals and rivers. I like interdependence as a concept better than independence. Interdependence means we all try to work together to live our best lives."

Marrok brings up thought-provoking points. Interdependence is an underutilized concept, yet it is something we all experience every day.


We can all agree that nonspeaking autistic students need tailored support to thrive and reach their full potential.


When we solely prioritize independence as the ultimate goal, we may be inadvertently applying undue pressure on our students to meet society's standards, which can unintentionally create an environment of stress and anxiety.


As a result, their self-esteem may suffer, and they might feel discouraged or undervalued, impacting their overall well-being, hindering their educational and personal development.


Instead, it is crucial to adopt an inclusive approach that recognizes the diverse communication tools of non-speaking students and fosters an accepting sense of interdependence within our community.


By providing appropriate support, communication aids, and opportunities for meaningful interactions, we can empower these students to express themselves effectively while actively engaging in academic and social settings.


A girl with brown hair and a white shirt taps her finger to her chin and looks up thoughtfully.

In addition to adopting a positive mindset around interdependence, AUTONOMY can be a powerful goal to adopt. Autonomy refers to the ability and freedom of an individual to make independent decisions and take actions (perhaps with support) based on their own judgment, preferences, and values.


Autonomy empowers individuals to make choices that align with their personal goals, beliefs, and desires, encouraging a sense of self-determination and ownership over their actions and decisions.


While the body may need support, with the proper communication tools, the mind can create more freedom through communication choice and autonomy. Autonomy is more accessible when we accept interdependence.


An environment that embraces interdependence acknowledges the strength of collaboration and encourages students, teachers, and peers to work together to support each other's unique needs, ensuring a more inclusive and nurturing educational experience. Such an approach not only boosts the mental health and confidence of non-speaking students but also enriches the entire educational community through diversity, empathy, and understanding.


Learn more here.


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