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2 Things to Know About Seeking a Spectrum Diagnosis as an Adult

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For a long time, I had difficulty answering a question that centered around the fact I received an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis at the age of 30. It’s a question I get on a regular basis: “Why would anyone would seek an ASD diagnosis as an adult? If you’ve made it that far, what’s the point?”

Finding the right response has been tough because people asking this can have a wide variety of intentions. Some people are simply curious. Some are skeptical. Other people are asking for themselves; they feel they may be on the spectrum and are sincerely interested in finding out whether or not they should pursue a diagnosis.

Over time, the more I engaged this topic, the more I realized my answers were always the same, no matter how or why the question was asked. In each case, I found myself returning to the same two basic ideas.

Why seek a spectrum diagnosis as an adult? If you’ve asked this, or know someone who has, here’s what you should know:

1. Self-knowledge makes it much easier to navigate life.

I believe we are born into identities and roles that the world forces upon us and pressures us into accepting. Examining our own nature and stepping outside of artificial social masks can be a valuable, necessary experience. And that’s as true for those on the autism spectrum as anyone else.

I think some people have a hard time seeing the value in this when it comes to the spectrum. Far too many people still view autism through the lens of negative stereotypes; they see autistics as being “shut down,” “living in their own world,” always the same and never changing. In fact, individuals on the autism spectrum have rich internal lives. We grow. We think. We change. And if someone on the spectrum reaches adulthood without a diagnosis, a huge amount of personal growth can be obtained if they are allowed to seek out more information about autism and how it might relate to their own experiences.

2. If you are on the spectrum, but undiagnosed, it’s easy to develop coping strategies that work against you.

This point is even more crucial than the first one. Not having an ASD diagnosis until the age of 30, I tried to deal with social challenges in ways that ended up doing more harm than good.

I felt pressured to hide differences. I put a huge amount of effort into “blending in” with others, concealing my social confusion and sensory pain. To some degree, I did manage to “blend,” but the end result was a lot of anxiety, depression and self-loathing.

Learning to mimic a narrow range of body language and conversation didn’t make life easier. It just became a grueling obstacle course that never seemed to end.

Only when I finally received a diagnosis was I able to piece together the specifics of my issues with social pragmatics and sensory issues. Only then could I develop new, beneficial coping strategies that were based on an understanding of my nature. These coping strategies massively improved the quality of my life.

Adults and autism diagnoses: What’s the point? The point is self-knowledge.

And the point is giving yourself a chance to dig out of toxic, maladaptive coping strategies. Lacking an accurate diagnosis just makes it so much easier to get mired in false ways of living. And in place of that lack, the world will always pressure you to be something you’re not.

Follow this journey on Invisible Strings.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: October 26, 2015
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