Many, but not all, children learn they are autistic at a young age. Women with autism might especially have a tendency to go undiagnosed until their later years, sometimes reaching into their 60s. Some never get their diagnosis. Experts in the field believe this could be because of the way women are socialized in society — from the way we communicate to the things that interest us. Poor diagnostic tools and criteria might also be to blame. While it is less common, there are stories of men who are left undiagnosed until adulthood as well.
I’m one of many people who didn’t receive their diagnosis until adulthood. For me, my diagnosis came at the age of 22, at an extremely difficult time in my life. Since receiving my diagnosis, I’ve been met with a lot of reactions — mostly that I seem too well-adjusted to have anything “wrong” with me. I’ve even encountered this type of attitude on my college campus when I met with a disabilities counselor about accommodations. Someone trained to help people like me could not comprehend the person sitting in front of her. I’ve perfected my outward persona to such an extent that some of my own friends and family members can’t believe I have a life-altering disability.
Now, there’s a huge difference between these individuals being genuinely surprised and these individuals doubting you. Genuine surprise comes out of a lack of understanding and exposure to autism spectrum disorders. Doubt is an unwarranted, unneeded and unhealthy judgment of your character.
Statistically, one in 45 children in the United States has autism, and diagnostic tools are becoming more accurate. When information is more readily available, the percentage of people worldwide will likely go up. According to the CDC, there is one diagnosed female with autism for every five males diagnosed. Experts speculate that the real ratio could be higher. Many undiagnosed individuals could be “high-functioning” and living life without answers because they’ve never been identified for testing.
Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed, you highly suspect you might be autistic or you are self-diagnosed, you are the only person who can judge your diagnosis. You are the only one who cried tears of relief upon reading your first article about high-functioning autism and the late diagnosis phenomenon. You are the only one who may have had to go through your own mental hell, not knowing exactly what was going on, but knowing in your heart that you needed help to combat your intense emotional distress. You’re the only one who had to deal with misdiagnoses of mental health disorders, medications that never worked for you and even trips to psych wards. You are the only one who took dozens of online tests, read all of the books and blogs, listened to all of the interviews and just knew it couldn’t be anything else.
You are the only one who had to guess the reason why you couldn’t connect to people, why you seemed to be pushing them away your entire life, leaving you feeling lonely and numb. You’re the only one who had to guess whether someone was mad at you, happy with you or indifferent because you couldn’t tell the difference. You’re the only one who had to deal with the odd looks and bullying because no one understood your intensely specialized topic of interest. You’re the only one who had to dissect your entire life in front of a doctor, year by year, misfortune after misfortune, and could only hope that you’d leave the diagnostic interview with an answer. You are the only one who truly has experienced the world the way you have.
You should never have to defend yourself because you weren’t diagnosed at a more “appropriate” age, in the eyes of your skeptics. You shouldn’t have to be punished for studying and practicing your social skills so well that you passed for “normal” for so many years. You shouldn’t have to be punished for trying to appear well-adjusted when you were really close to falling apart. You should never have to defend every aspect of your being to someone who has already decided that they don’t believe your diagnosis. You shouldn’t have to learn how to live with your diagnosis while people are doubting whether or not it’s real.
You are amazing, strong and resilient. You are autistic and had no clue for years, but you still managed to push through life without much help or appropriate accommodations. You never gave up on finding an answer. Now that you finally have one, you can live a much more successful and fulfilling life. Now you can show your skeptics just how amazing you are — autism and all.