On Being Independent
What does it really mean, though, when we say a person is independent? There are so many cultural variables that go into determining that status, and often they're quite arbitrary and have little to do with a person's actual abilities.
By the standards of our society, I currently fall into the "independent" category because I have a house, job, and car. I don't personally do the maintenance on my house and car because I lack the mechanical aptitude, but luckily for me, our culture allows employed people to qualify as "independent" even if someone else does all their auto and home maintenance.
Now let's suppose our economy went into a deep recession and I lost my job and had to move in with my parents. All of a sudden, I would be transformed into a dependent autistic adult and therefore an object of pity, even though none of my skills would have changed in the slightest. I might choose to spend my days improving society by tutoring illiterates or serving meals at a homeless shelter, but as long as I wasn't being paid for it, I would still be seen as a dependent person who did not contribute to society.
If I had the good fortune to buy a winning multi-million dollar lottery ticket while living with my parents, however, I would bounce right back into the category of socially valued independent people, despite the fact that I was not working. I could go live in some decadent tropical resort and spend all my days drinking margaritas on the beach and doing absolutely nothing productive, but I would still enjoy a much higher social status than any of the working people there.
Let's say that after living in hedonistic luxury for some time, I get ashamed of myself, give away my fortune to feed the world's hungry, and go live in a mud hut somewhere and reflect on the meaning of human existence while volunteering to treat sick children in a village clinic. Not only would my social status drop through the floor, but someone probably would suggest to my parents that they try to get a guardianship over me to protect me from myself.
If I spent the next few years as a housewife raising kids, I would go back to being a respected independent adult, regardless of the fact that my husband was paying all the bills. My contribution to society would be seen as noble, and I would be a shining example of family values.
But if my husband took all our money and ran off to Jamaica with a bimbo, leaving me as a penniless single mother on welfare in public housing, I would instantly become a despised burden to society, even though I was still the same devoted mom taking care of the home and telling stories to my kids.
Then, if I turned those stories into a bestselling book and got a fat contract for several sequels, maybe I could be a celebrity, appearing on talk shows and invited to be the guest of honor at conventions. People would read enviously about me in tabloids. I could live in a huge mansion with a cook, a housekeeper, and a chauffeur.
Some years later, let's say that my books are no longer popular and I can't afford to keep the mansion and the servants. I then develop some sort of disabling physical condition that makes it difficult for me to do household chores. My disability insurance company arranges for a household staff assistant to help me with cooking, cleaning, and running errands. Now I'm no longer considered to be independent, even though my staff is doing exactly the same work that my servants used to do when I was a lazy able-bodied person.
Perhaps my health eventually improves, and I no longer need household assistance. By now, I'm old enough to start drawing on the retirement accounts that I set up when I was a successful author, and I settle down to enjoy the relatively comfortable social status of a middle-class retired person.
Well, until I develop health problems again, that is. Then someone is sure to start grumbling about all the resources I'm wasting with my old decrepit body, which has inconveniently stayed alive longer than the actuarial charts predicted, and ought to be considerate enough to drop dead and get out of the way.
If you're thinking that all of this is totally random and weird and has nothing whatsoever to do with autism—that's the whole point.