Is Independence Possible with Autism?

When you have a child with autism, your thoughts about your youngster’s future may swing between conjured images of your grown child living on their own and holding down a job, or in the opposite direction which may resemble a young person unable to do anything on their own without constant supervision and directives. 

It is imperative that professionals dedicated to children on the spectrum work from the awareness that the abilities of any autistic child to develop into a self-reliant individual rests much on the goals that are set in place and that they focus precisely and consistently on the road towards independence, regardless of the child’s age or existing statistics. 

Is independence possible with autism?

Yes, because growth is possible, and it happens optimally through a process of guidance that stimulates growth-seeking and awareness in the child. 

If you ask a group of parents or autism professionals what the meaning of independence is, you will likely receive a plethora of answers, and much of those responses will vary depending upon current and past life and professional experiences. So, let’s take a look at the standard definition of independence.

Independence is typically defined as the quality or state of being independent. The definition of independent includes being self-sufficient, self-reliant—basically, the ability of a person to take care of their own needs and assume responsibility for decisions with no, or lessened, external support. 

Parents frequently ask, will my child always need support? In our approach, learning, including the child’s ability to grow and become more independent in action or thinking, is a life-long wholistic process. We refer to this as long-vision.

Each new piece that is discovered or realized by the child becomes an expansion or extension of prior learning, which lays a foundation for future learning. Then, once the child becomes growth-seeking, where they notice “I can do this and I want to experience more!”, which is not intrinsic to an autistic child, the inner-foundation is laid, and the building blocks continue to expand into self-drive.

The level of needed support that the child requires will eventually shift to self-learned and onwards to self-supportive. 

The Best Age is ‘Now’ in Learning Independence

The best time to set goals that place autistic children on a path towards independence is now, regardless of age. Every child on the spectrum is a little bit different, with distinct abilities and resiliencies, but the process of working with the child to set them on a growth-seeking mental pathway, based on what needs to be available for that individual child, begins with analyzing where they are now (where they are today). 

Small steps become big successes and each step should begin with your child’s developmental stage rather than age.

We model success by building upon learning, not by a chart that tells us where your child should be developmentally at a given age. 

Goals are Important Tools for Independence 

One of the most important components of the path to independence is the goals and dreams that parents hold. Goals become a focal point that gives parents hope. With set goals in place, parents can see the markers, the smallest of improvements as the child grows. 

Goals are also important in retaining focus. Life itself is difficult enough without the added challenges that come with raising an autistic child. With those challenges, though, it becomes easy to overcompensate or hesitate in our efforts just to make life less stressful for everyone at the moment. 

When we are mindful of the goals we’ve set in place, we avoid letting the busy-ness or stress factors of the day interrupt our focus on guiding the child towards independence. We know where we want to go, and we know what it takes to get there. 

Where do you want your child to be ten years from now, or when they are adult age?

Whatever your goals are, as Dr. Rachelle Sheely pointed out in the podcast Transitioning to Adulthood: Part 2, “I think it’s really important that we pace ourselves. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. We have to keep pacing ourselves and we have to keep focused on not only the end goal but how are we getting there?” 

We’re Here to Help You with the Path to Independent Living

We’re here to give your autistic child a new and improved starting place for independent living. 

Our RDI® program teaches parents how to guide their children through key areas that lead to independence, and much of that starts with motivation and communication. 

As an autism professional, or as a parent, are you interested in learning more about our approach today? 

RDI® is a family-friendly program that works with parents. Are you a parent interested in working with a consultant

RDI® consultants are key to Relationship Development Intervention® in the lives of families. These trained professionals serve as a coach to parents, helping both parents and children achieve and motivate their goals of independence. Are you interested in becoming a consultant? Request a consultant packet and learn more today


  1. Linda Davis

    We have a mild to moderately autistic grandson who is now 13. The biggest problem we have is that only his father and I, the step-grandmother, will accept this diagnosis. Neither my husband, the grandfather nor his daughter , the child’s mother, will even discuss the possibility that this diagnosis (made by a pediatric neurologist and a team of teachers and social workers) might be correct. I have an MA in Counseling and have seen the films of the child’s brain made when he was much younger. I have observed profound PDD since he was an infant and am now very concerned about how he will navigate his adolescence. He has not yet reached full puberty despite his 6′ height and size 12 mens shoes. This is a huge strain in our family. The only concession his mother has made to his needs is that she agreed for him to have an Individual Education Plan at school.In this he is moved along regardless of whether he actually has completed the learning tasks for his grade level (7th).
    There is so much more but I will not go on. My hands are tied but I feel that I need relationship development intervention and am wondering if that is available for the step grandmother.

  2. Rachelle Sheely

    Dear Linda,
    This is truly a difficult position and I wish I could say I’ve not heard it before. There are some legal implications related to your question. However, my assumption is that if the father decides to purse RDI with a consultant he would be allowed toinclude whomever he wishes For example, if he wanted to include a teacher or a pediatrician and give them access to the site he would be allowed to do so. I live in Texas and am not sure about the legal implications where you are. given my licensing, work with a grandparent would not be permitted. Best wishes–please let me know if I can be helpful.

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