Independence vs. Interdependence

Independence vs. Interdependence
It’s not exactly what your mother taught you

I remember when I was just a young boy being told that someday I would go out on my own. I would have to take care of myself and eventually I would have my own family.  This is a regular dialogue that most youth will hear from their parents or caregivers, but what does the future hold for our kids with FASD?  I hear a lot of talk about independence when we are planning the futures for those with FASD.  But, I rarely hear the question being asked, “can they even live independently?”  The truth is some folks will never be able to live completely without support.  So, instead of stressing about what we can’t do – let’s worry about what we can and will do. So, what do we do about it?

When we push independence on people with FASD they develop the belief that they don’t need anyone’s help with anything.  WRONG!  When we as caregivers give these folks this type of responsibility and expectations, it only slows us down in the future when we try to set them up with long term support and build up their necessary circle of care.  Now, I am not saying that they are incapable of living on there own at all, in fact many do with the right supports, but we MUST change the focus from INdependence to INTERdependence.

Let’s look at it this way – as we get older we too become more dependant on people.  We learn to become dependant on our spouses, friends, family and various services to help us with our difficulties or any area’s we may lack in, ie. cooking, cleaning, gardening, laundry, etc.  Here’s my example: there would be no way that I would could have this blog with out the help of so many great people, my house wouldn’t be as clean and my finances would be in a huge mess. I need help with all of these things and I am sure that there are things that  people help you with.  By pushing independence on our kids with FASD it becomes an exaggerated expectation that could lead to a horrible outcome.  We have to remember that homelessness starts at birth for people with FASD.

So what is interdependence and how does this help people with FASD?

Interdependence as defined by Wikipedia is the, ” interconnectedness and the reliance on one another socially, economically, environmentally and politically.”  As we are all fully aware people with FASD have many deficits that will hinder them from total independent living.  Therefore, as a caregiver it is so important to teach your loved one with FASD that it’s ok to ask for help when they are having trouble.  While, I am not suggesting doing everything for them, but what I am saying is lose the “they will figure it out” attitude .  One of the young men with FASD I work with was stuck on the fact that he wanted to take the  bus to meet a friend; so I told him it was OK, but he would have to go to the store,  purchase  the bus tickets and take the bus on his own.  The reason I was doing this is because if I had said no, we could have had a major breakdown and because I know him, I didn’t think that he would go through with it because of the amount of steps required to actually get on the bus.  Through out my time working with this young man I would tell him everyday that if he ever got in trouble or didn’t know what to do, to call me from his cell ph0ne and I or another staff would help him.  Well, he called my bluff and got on the bus.  As I sat there worried like crazy (because that’s what we do) wondering if I should have just put up with the meltdown, I got a call about an hour later and it was HIM!!! He was scared because he didn’t want to ask the bus driver for a transfer.  I was very excited that he had actually called for help!  I asked him where he was and the response I received was,  “umm I’m at a convenience store.”  Of course, I laughed a little on the inside (and it’s ok if you do too).  My response was, “ok pal, I need some more information” and the response I received was, “Umm…there’s a chinese food store next door.”  Now, I laughed out loud and so did he.   So, I told him to ask the store owner the address.  When I picked him up he had that ‘I’m in trouble’ look on his face, but my reaction was the opposite.  I told him how proud I was that he called and was glad that he was ok… and then I took him to McDonald’s.

The point of my story is I made it ok for him to ask for help and because of that, the situation was resolved.  He left feeling happy that he took the bus on his own and not that he got lost and scared.  As caregivers, let’s put some more focus on having your child with FASD not only ask for help, but to accept help when we see that they need it.  If your successful at this you will have a better chance at making sure that they are happy and safe for the long term, which is the ULTIMATE GOAL.

Source: Wikipedia, interdependence definition

Call to Action:
Have you ever had a similar situation where your child with FASD accepted or asked for help and it saved them from a situation that could have turned out worse?  
Please leave a comment below and share your story!!!


Making Sense of the Madness: An FASD Survival Guide.

You will learn how to:

  • Increase your FASD understanding and decrease your frustration
  • Sharpen your advocacy skills and strengthen your support network
  • Be a happier, more balanced and confident FASD Caregiver


  1. Hi! Is it OK if I go a bit off topic? I am trying to view your site on my Mac but it doesn’t display properly, do you have any suggestions? Thanks in advance! Jesica

    • I’m not to sure why that is Jesica, Try yelling at the computer….I don’t think it will be to effective, but you might feel better. I’ll see if this is happening on other mac’s and make the adjustments needed thanks

  2. Well as you know my girl is only two and does not speak more then two words yet. BUT…she often asks for stuff by using her sign for ‘more’. I never knew how many situations a simple word like more could apply to. More food, more drink, more attention, more play, more outside…she really uses her one sign a lot. So now we are working on the sign for ‘help’. Baby steps.

  3. Hi Jeff,
    Great article! Really thought inspiring. This is one of the aspects of caregiving that I really struggled with when I became involved with those who are alcohol affected. My background as a social worker led me to believe that with enough caring, helping and resources – we could figure these kids out! I don’t think so! 😉
    I couldn’t agree with you more that we must teach these kids to ask for help and to feel good about it, because they certainly will need it.

    Thanks for another great article Jeff – but mostly, thanks for validating my efforts.

  4. Excellent article. Thanks for that, Jeff. And dead-on accurate. One of J’s biggest challenges is asking for help, and the biggest piece of that seems to be that he doesn’t want to *need* help – then comes to the point where “please help” becomes “this is really messed up now!! please fix!!” He is slowly learning, through living with some of his choices at home over the years, that asking for help can be a very good thing – though it’s still a rare occurrence.

  5. Exactly, I have to watch out with this as my son is 16 years. Last year my son went on and on about how he was going to leave home at the magical age of 16! I was so worried because I knew that the law was on his side and well meaning (or those with lack of knowledge of FASD) people told him he could leave home at 16 (social workers, police), said he was able to make up his up mind, was an adult now (oh boy!). Well we’re a year+ on and he is still at home, he has brought up the subject from time to time but not like he was (almost obsessively). I think its due to me seeking the appropriate help for “us” because of my fear of him ending up on the street or other bad things. What has worked is a team approach at home and school, being flexible (and inflexible), giving him the tools (cell phone to txt me) and like you said letting him learn the steps, giving him choices and the chance to do the things he wants but also being there when he needed me. I have been faced with a lot of well meaning advice for raising my teen especially because of the trouble he has gotten into. Last I was told to pack his bags and kick him out of the house when I had called the police (he was jumping out the window, stealing my car). Well I did and then got him back after a few days when I learned that he was sleeping in the park! He didnt’ learn by this consequence in fact it put him more at risk! he thought it was great, could do whatever he wanted! so have I learned the hard way and now know that if he stays out or gets in trouble I go get him, bring him home and ask for help. He then has to learn by his consequences (charged etc, court dates and curfew). So he got into serious trouble, I got the curfew I needed and my son turned himself around to the point that I could see a drastic change in him, I got more help from his support team and will most probably get more help through his sentencing. I also got him depending on me more but in a good way, a more mature, respectful way.Just have to hope this continues…

  6. Ok, question for everyone.

    I’m a single, adoptive Mom up in Canada. I had to leave my job over a year ago due to my son’s needs. His IQ is too high for him to eventually qualify for adult supported living. What are you all doing with regards to our kids in their adult years?

  7. This section on independence in an interest to me. I’m contemplating writing a 2nd book abut FASD Behavior. The first time around, I gave hundreds of my book away to varied people who would need it. Now, it graces the shelves of many political offices, education offices, and the medical field. This time around, I want people to come to me and want to read about the behavior they might see in their own children.
    I might even be able to answer the question from Christine Dec. 10, 2010.
    Please watch for it. As soos as I get the grant, I will begin.
    My very best goes out to all our you who are dealing with this. I adopted two granddaughters, who are now 30 and 31. The 31 year old passed away on Feb. 1, 2011 – so I do have something to relate to our problems.
    Hope I can learn from you all and that I can contribute something to each one of you and your families.
    Love from Idaho, Sandra Lemmon Orton, Pocatello, ID

  8. Fantastic and well written thanks for your time also I would like to sign up for the newsletter and eBook but alas it is not sending 🙁 my local library only had one book on Fasd.

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