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While central to robotics, biology and cognitive science, the concept of autonomy remains still difficult to make operative in the realm of Alife simulation models of cognitive agents. Its deep significance as a transition concept between life and cognition (a milestone on the Alife route to AI) remains obscured in the intricate relation between metabolic/constructive processes and behavioral adaptive processes in living systems. Within a naturalized and biologically inspired dynamical approach to cognition a definition of behavioral adaptive autonomy is provided: homeo-static maintenance of essential variables under viability constraints through self-modulating behavioral coupling with the environment, hierarchically decoupled from metabolic (constructive) processes. This definition allows for a naturalized notion of behavioral adaptive functionality (that defines a proper level of modelling within Alife), structurally and interactively emergent: the mapping of the agent-environment system's state space trajectories into the viability subspace of the essential variables of the organism.