Happy Independence Day!! 243 years ago today,(I did the math- lol) America declared its independence from British rule. Why? Taxation without representation aside, the colonists realized that in order to fully realize their potential, they had to seperate and individuate themselves. They knew that as long as someone else had control over them, their lives and experiences would be limited by the needs and objectives of the ruling country.
This was the ultimate statement of human's need for self-determination and to have control over their own destinies. It also, though less enthusiastically received, relieved England of the burden of caring for the our growing nation. The same can be said for adults with Autism and their families. After two decades of caring for your child, it's time to declare independence; for you and your child. Typically developing children have a more organic transition into adulthood and independence. They graduate high school and generally move on to college or enter the workforce, with the goal of creating their own lives as adults, separate from their families.
Our children are different than the typically developing child (insert obvious statement here- lol). Their path to independence has no natural flow. Instead, it is a series of stops and starts that is met with multiple roadblocks and limited options. Let's look first at the roadblocks.
How do we, as parents, determine the right level of independence for our child? How much support will they need with their physical, emotional, vocational, recreational and educational needs? The truth is, everyone wants independence. The level to which an individual can achieve that goal depends on multiple factors. First, is the issue of availability. Is there somewhere that an individual with Autism can live and grow into their full potential? Will that environment allow your child to develop their independence at their own pace? Some people will always need a certain level of support, but that level varies as much as each person does. When you find a place for your child that allows for individualization within the road to independence, you know you've struck gold. The one-size-fits-all housing model doesn't fit our kids. We need different size models because our kids don't fit into the pre-sized ones.
The second factor is affordability. Is the cost of independence prohibitive? Are there resources, both personally and governmentally, available? Apartments are expensive, especially in NY. And what are you getting for your money? If it was just a matter of finding an apartment, then that's one thing. But finding one that's affordable and offers the benefits of independence and a rich array of supports and activities can feel like looking for a unicorn.
But when I talk about independence, I'm not only talking about independence for our adult children with Autism. I'm also talking about independence for us, the parents. Many parents who have children on the spectrum feel guilty about wanting their children to move out so that they can enjoy the freedom of their later years. There's no shame in that. It's natural to want to see your children soar and create their own lives. But with our special needs children, we tend to worry that we're somehow being selfish to want our freedom back and to alleviate some of our financial and emotional burden (Yes, I said it; burden). There's no doubt that raising a child with special needs takes an emotional and financial toll; much more so than raising a typically developing child. It's not selfish, it's the natural progression in life. Children grow up and and parents find their own independence too.
So there you go. Independence for everyone!! Happy 4th!!