The Interdependence Mindset: Overcoming Misconceptions

Brenda Dater, MSW, MPH

Brenda Dater, MSW, MPH

About the Author

Brenda Dater, MSW, MPH, is the executive director at AANE and the author of “Parenting Without Panic.” Brenda is a mom of three, and her eldest is an Autistic transgender woman. Brenda has facilitated parent support groups for over 20 years and thoroughly enjoys creating an environment where parents can find the support, information, and the community they need.

When I work with Autistic individuals and their families who are worried about the achievement of “independent adulthood,” I frequently talk about developing an interdependence mindset. This concept acknowledges that in reality, nobody is truly, 100% independent. Everyone, regardless of their neurology, needs help at some point in their lives or with certain things they find challenging.

But why is seeking and accepting help so daunting at times? I think there are several contributing misconceptions.

Misconception #1: Asking for help is a sign of weakness.

I feel strongly that when we can’t figure out how to handle problems or tasks on our own, asking for help does NOT mean we’ve failed or are deficient. Seeking and accepting support from a trusted family member, friend, or professional can help us address and resolve issues, relieve stress, and make us feel less alone. It also doesn’t mean our growth and skill-building will be inhibited. We can receive help and also expand our capacity to handle tasks and situations that come our way. This balance allows us to build our confidence and resilience while avoiding overwhelm.

Misconception #2: Help is for emergencies only.

To highlight this point, I have a personal experience with my Autistic daughter, Rachel, that she gave me permission to share. When she was close to graduating from college, Rachel experienced a major depression and needed to come home. One of the contributing factors was that she stopped using help during college because she thought she needed to be “independent.” She assumed the only time help should be used was if there was some sort of acute emergency, like the death of a loved one, job loss, or unexpected diagnosis – not for the day-to-day challenges she was facing. The accumulation of four years of trying to manage everything on her own was part of what led to her crisis. To Rachel, help was an on or off switch; she either had to be fully dependent on others or fully reliant on herself. 

During her recovery, we talked about the concept of interdependence and how members of our own family relied on and helped each other. We didn’t just help each other in dire situations; we lent a hand to make things easier for each other. Sharing this with Rachel shifted her perception about involving others in her life. Five years later, Rachel is open to support to reach goals she has for herself and is managing daily life with more confidence, even as challenges arise. 

Misconception #3: A person shouldn’t ask for help if there are others who need it more.

Many Autistic individuals tell me they don’t want to seek assistance since it would take away support from someone in greater need. While this may come from a place of wanting to be fair or generous to others, it denies the very real needs a person may be experiencing, which are just as worthy. Everyone needs different levels of support and that doesn’t make any of us less deserving or mean we should struggle.

Misconception #4: It didn’t work last time, so it’s not worth trying again.

If we have tried to access help and had a bad experience or we weren’t believed, we may feel defeated and wonder, “What’s the point?” A bad experience doesn’t mean all experiences in seeking help will turn out that way, but I understand how this becomes a barrier. Many Autistic individuals tell me they don’t trust a system where they have found expressing their concerns and having them ignored left them feeling worse. Searching for the right type of help can require multiple tries before discovering a knowledgeable and understanding person or program. Once it is found, however, the benefits can be life-changing.

So how do we promote interdependence? 

The Power of Openness

I believe we need a cultural shift where everyone–neurotypical and neurodivergent alike–can share openly about times we need help and how we access it. I have discovered that sharing this type of information with Rachel and the other Autistic individuals and families helps normalize asking for help. It also encourages those who have had negative experiences in the past to keep trying to find the type of assistance needed.

We can share and discuss how the signs of anxiety, loss of energy, rumination, or carrying muscle tension can be warnings that help is needed. We can give examples of times when support helped prevent a more difficult situation later. Talking out loud about support destigmatizes it so that we can feel that we aren’t weak or have done something wrong if we need it. 

Remember that interdependence is not all or nothing. Sometimes we will need more help and sometimes less. Interdependence is an antidote, not only to emergency situations, but the accumulation of daily stress. It gives us a wider and stronger support system that connects us all and provides community.

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