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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Independence and Interdependence

 In The Politics of Autism, I write:

Many analyses of autism speak as if it were only a childhood ailment and assume that parents are the main stakeholders. But most children with autism grow up to be adults with autism, and they suffer uniquely high levels of social isolation. Almost 40 percent of youth with an autism spectrum disorder never get together with friends, and 50 percent of never receive phone calls from friends. These figures are higher than for peers with intellectual disability, emotional disturbance, or learning disability. When school ends, many adults with autism have grim prospectsThough evidence is sparse, it seems that most do not find full-time jobs. Compared with other people their age, they have higher rates of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and suicide attempts.

Moser, C., Smith DaWalt, L., Burke, M. M., & Taylor, J. L. (2024). Emerging adulthood in autism: Striving for independence or interdependence? Autism, 0(0).
While some autistic youth have attitudes consistent with Arnett’s conceptualization of emerging adulthood, feeling as though they need more time to gradually move toward adulthood (Cribb et al., 2019), others consider themselves to be adults immediately after adolescence (e.g. 18 years of age; Anderson et al., 2016). This belief may lead to unattainable expectations, as most people achieve more traditional milestones of adulthood later in life (e.g. 29 years of age; Arnett, 2014). Like their non-autistic peers, it is also unclear to what extent independence should be considered a marker of adulthood in this group—particularly given the varied opinions autistic emerging adults have about the importance of self-sufficiency. For instance, although some autistic youth hope to live on their own, others report no desire to move out of the parental home (Anderson et al., 2016). Moreover, autistic emerging adults who desire greater independence can find it challenging to achieve this goal without support (Cribb et al., 2019; Sosnowy et al., 2018).

Thus, to support autistic youth in reaching their maximum potential and achieving their goals during emerging adulthood and beyond, it may be helpful to widen our focus from promoting independence, to promoting independence and interdependence. While the term interdependence has been used in various contexts, here we conceptualize interdependence as a mutual dependency between two or more people and is underscored by the notion that support should not stifle autonomy (Condeluci, 1995). Drawing from other scholars (e.g. Settersten et al., 2015), we argue that no one acts entirely independently, and thus, independence and interdependence co-occur within all people (autistic or not). Furthermore, individuals demonstrate varying degrees of independence and interdependence across domains of life and stages of development. For instance, while some emerging adults may prefer a high degree of interdependence throughout their lifespan, others may desire some degree of interdependence to gain more self-sufficiency in later adulthood (e.g. living independently).