How could you not know you are Autistic?
Such a seemingly simple question. But the answer for me and many other people diagnosed as Autistic in adulthood is far from simple.
So, at the age of 45 – with my own Autistic children who are almost adults themselves, and after working with Autistic children and families for over 15 years – here I am with an official diagnosis of Autism.
It came with a sense of relief and comfort, a feeling that it really fit, but it did not come quickly or easily. This was a journey of discovery that was years in the making.
I was lucky to grow up in a loving and supportive family, who accepted me as I was and still do, something I know many people are unable to say. But I have always felt different – a sense of distance and awkwardness with my peers that has followed me throughout my childhood and into adulthood.
There were times where I was labelled ‘bossy,’ ‘oversensitive,’ and a ‘know-it-all,’ and times when I have said and done things that made me want to curl up and hide with embarrassment. But there have also been times when I have made connections and found people who made me feel like I belonged, and opportunities and experiences that, looking back, may not have happened without my differences.
When my youngest son was diagnosed Autistic 13 years ago, it did not occur to me that I might also be Neurodivergent. I think like many parents of Autistic children, when their child receives a diagnosis, they wonder who in their family the child may take after. And that was me – looking over my family tree and identifying several ‘quirky’ characters but not looking within.
Only those who know me well would know of some of the challenges I have faced throughout my life – depression and anxiety, self-doubt and loneliness – challenges that many in the Autistic community face every day. And while these are certainly challenges faced by the wider community too, I can now see that my experiences have been shaped by my neurology.
Why then, with a history of social challenges, sensory sensitivities and feeling different, and a career working with the Autistic community, has it taken me so long to recognise that I am Autistic?
The only answer I can come up with to this question is that I wasn’t looking for it.
I have also been privileged to work with and support the Autistic community over many years and will continue to do so, but had not considered that perhaps my affinity for my clients and my ability to understand and support them might be linked to my own neurology.
Consequently, it was only over the last few years that I became more aware of my differences, and began to think that I was in fact neurodivergent. With that realisation, and the encouragement of family and friends, I pursued a formal assessment, and was finally diagnosed as Autistic in March this year.
Now, as I start a new journey to understand what being Autistic means to me, and to find my authentic self, I encourage any adults out there that think they may be neurodivergent to embrace their differences, and explore their neurology and what it means for them.
Autism acceptance is not just about accepting the differences we might see in the Autistic community. For some of us it is also about accepting and understanding our Autistic selves.