Understanding and the Importance of Building Independence

What is Independence?

There are several definitions of independence.  For example, 

Independent functioning can be defined as…

“On-task engagement in an activity in the absence of adult prompting” (Hume & Odom, 2007, p. 1172)

Behavioural Independence is defined as:

“Enacting self-governed, self-regulated behaviors that are based on one’s personal decisions” (Zimmer-Gembeck & Collins, 2003).

There are also distinctions between behavioural independence which is characterised by acting upon an individual’s own interests, preferences, and capabilities (Wehmeyer, 2000), and functional independence i.e. the ability to complete an activity or task (which may or may not  be reflective of someone’s interests or preferences) reducing prompting, are important aspects to consider when teaching independence skills.

Though functional independence may not be the same as behavioural independence, which requires independent decision making in addition to demonstrating behaviour independently, both of the definitions above indicate the ability to complete tasks without close proximity, guidance, prompting, support, or advice from others e.g., caregivers, school staff, peers; (Zimmer-Gembeck & Collins, 2003). The overarching concept of independence, therefore, requires that an individual can demonstrate that they have the capacity to behave on their own.

Point to remember

Building independence may be different from person to person. Deciding what skill is important to teach depends on what is significant to the individual child or young person with autism or indeed what their family feels is an important skill/s for them to learn independently or with reduced dependency.

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Why can building independence skills be difficult for children and young people with autism?

It is important to remember that building independence skills can be challenging for all children and young people.

There are, however, a number of reasons including, but not exclusive to, understanding the expectations required from their parents, school staff and peers.   As the young person gets older, they also often strive to affirm their own ideas and decisions. 

For those with autism, these challenges in building independence (e.g. on a cognitive, social, emotional and functional level) are further compounded by characteristics related to their diagnosis. 

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