Interdependence, A Better Goal
“Independence” is a widely-used word in the world of disability. If you look at agency titles, IEP goals, and conversations among parents, it would be understandable for you to come away believing that independent is the best thing anyone can be. But is it? Who in this world lives entirely independent of the support of others?
Most of us rely each day on oil we didn’t personally mine, food we didn’t personally grow, and services we don’t personally know how to provide. Like most species, humans are INTERdependent – and this fact is great news for people with disabilities and those who support them. Nobody has to undergo the herculean task of knowing how to do everything on our own. We just need to know where we can go for help!
Sensory integration, executive function, communication, social interaction, and emotional regulation are the five areas of potential support needs for neurodivergent people. As such, teaching interdependence relative to these five foundations for divergent minds enables neurodivergent people to flourish into confident, happy adults. Communication serves as the pedestal on which self-advocacy in the other four areas can be built. Sensory integration plans should include communication about sensory needs and ways to express sensory discomfort. Social interaction involves learning about our own social needs and desires and learning ways to meet those needs and to help others meet theirs. Supports for executive function can include asking others for reminders and getting assistance with difficult tasks. Other people and resources can help with emotional regulation, and research shows that more comprehensive support systems lead to happier, healthier people.
Many traditional interventions deemphasize interdependence in favor of independence. Behaviors such as ignoring communication until a designated behavior is performed or consistently holding rigid and unattainable standards effectively shut down the idea that people can be helpful. Rather than fostering a growth mindset, these interventions push a fixed mindset filled with distrust, avoidance, and trauma. In today’s world, more than ever before, an arsenal of rote skills with little problem-solving ability leaves individuals unprepared to face life’s daily challenges. Models that emphasize identifying what kind of help is needed and figuring out where to go for help promote these problem-solving skills in a way that supports both immediate success and future self-determination.