What It Was Like to Receive an Autism Diagnosis as an Adult
A few months before I turned 28, I realized for the first time in my life that there was a very real possibility I could be autistic. This revelation came after years of struggling with depression, anxiety and a lifelong battle against insomnia. When I first became depressed roughly five years ago, I took vitamins and forced myself to exercise, making my physical health as much of a priority as my mental health. I meditated and I tried acupuncture. I was kind to myself when I felt I didn’t deserve it, when my own self-hatred dominated my thoughts. I spent countless hours reading articles about mental health. Then one day, I found an article that stated people with Asperger’s syndrome are often misdiagnosed as having social anxiety.
I didn’t know a lot about autism at that time, and I wrongly assumed I couldn’t be autistic because I don’t have a problem looking people in the eyes and I don’t lack empathy. If anything, I have too much. The article linked to an autism test. I took the test and results were positive, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. I can’t be autistic, I thought. Assuredly, I would have known by this point in my life. I graduated high school and university. A teacher or professor would have spotted the symptoms and recommended me for testing, right? I took three additional autism tests I found online and all three had positive results. My heart was pounding as I reviewed the results. I could be autistic. This could be the reason for my anxiety and insomnia. This could be the reason I prefer to be alone over the company of other people. This could be the reason I’ve always felt… different.
I told my family, feeling simultaneously scared and excited. For the first time in my life, I had an explanation for why I am the way I am. When I told them, they weren’t as excited as I was. It seemed like they politely humored me, but they couldn’t see what I saw. I realized then that they did not see the monster I live with, the rumination, self-hatred, depression, anxiety, and all the sleepless nights that led to miserable days. They saw a quiet, intelligent, successful young woman who struggled from time to time. After all, what is some people’s perception of people with Asperger’s? People who are unintentionally rude or often interrupt others? People with “odd” obsessions? People like Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory”? That’s not me. One family member asked me, “Have you ever met anyone with Asperger’s?” I tried to explain that autism can look different in women than it does in men and that it affects people differently. But I realized I had spent days researching autism spectrum disorder and their perception of autism was probably similar to the perception I had when I first stumbled upon that article about social anxiety and Asperger’s syndrome.
Fortunately, I was able to find an amazing psychologist who specializes in women on the autism spectrum. After my initial consultation and developmental interview, my doctor confirmed my suspicions. Her exact words were, “You’re on the spectrum, we just need to find out where.” I worried how a diagnosis would change my life. I worried I might use a diagnosis as an excuse for my odd behavior in social situations or as an excuse for not attending social events. I was worried people would treat me differently. Oddly enough, I was worried people would be kinder to me. I worried that if people in my life knew I had autism spectrum disorder, they would go out of their way to be kind and include me in social events. I don’t want people to treat me with kindness because of a disorder I have. I want people to treat me with kindness only when they feel I am deserving of their kindness.
During my research of autism, I found numerous articles written by women on the spectrum. Many of them provided reassurance that it’s perfectly normal to cry after learning you’re on the spectrum. Yet, after testing concluded and I received my official diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder level 2, I didn’t feel like crying at all. I felt validated. I felt vindicated. I felt like I finally understood myself. These odd quirks and behaviors, the social awkwardness, my hatred of small talk, all these things I optimistically believed I would someday outgrow, while simultaneously fighting my way through the self-hatred they caused, suddenly, they had a justification. These weren’t my shortcomings, these weren’t things I needed to fix, and I am not broken. These were, are and always will be just a small part of who I am.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Thinkstock image by Hemera Technologies