Autism and Independence: An Oxymoron?

The little bit of knowledge I have about autism came from a gentleman I met a year ago who I […]

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The little bit of knowledge I have about autism came from a gentleman I met a year ago who I will call Tom. I met Tom at a social group, called Socrates Café, that meets on Thursday every week. The members of the social group are intellectual, much like Tom and me.

There are times when Tom is so on-the-ball that you would not know he has autism. He lives by himself in an apartment, drives a car, and has a job at Opportunity Partners that he likes. Tom’s job does not pay enough to support all his needs, but it does provide some income. For him, the pay is an incentive to achieve and it demonstrates to people that he is capable of doing the job. Tom wants to believe he can have a full, independent, and happy life. Yet parts of his life sometime interfere with his developmental capabilities even though he has an intellectual side.

Many individuals with autism have different levels of understanding and capability. Opportunity Partners encourages each of its employees to be independent. The way they do this is by looking at the individual and matching his/her capabilities with the job. By doing this, they instill pride in each worker and help create greater independence.

Tom’s employer has supported his need for independence by working with the capabilities he has as an autistic adult. His parents, in my opinion, have done the opposite. They do not encourage him to strive and exceed to the best of his abilities. Unfortunately, parents of disabled children sometimes cannot see the capabilities of their children because the disability gets in the way of their view. When that happens, the tendency can be to emotionally handicap the child. A common result of this type of parental intervention may be inappropriate comments or behavior expressed by the child.

When Tom is treated this way by his parents and realizes that he has said or done something inappropriate, he feels bad about himself. His reaction doesn’t help his self-esteem. And it certainly doesn’t nourish his belief for a full, independent and happy life.

I believe autism and independence can co-exist rather than be an oxymoron. It depends on how you are raised and the kind of support and encouragement you get in life. The autistic child or adult who has that kind of reinforcement is very lucky indeed!

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