4 Reasons to Get Assessed If You Think You're Autistic
I grew up aware of autism. My elementary school had several kids on the spectrum, one of whom became my first boyfriend when we got to high school. For years, I figured I was probably on the spectrum too — eye contact was nearly impossible for me, and I struggled to interact with most people — but I didn’t mention this to anyone, nor did I think that getting tested would be useful in any way. The idea of being evaluated for an autism diagnosis seemed self-indulgent; I was managing more or less decently without a diagnosis, so trying to get diagnosed would basically just be about self-discovery, right?
Wrong. I was finally diagnosed at age 22, and I wish it had happened much earlier. Why? Because there are lots of benefits to an autism diagnosis, some of which I detail below and some of which I probably haven’t discovered yet.
1. If you’re still in school, you might be able to get accommodations. I have an unusually slow processing speed, which is common for people on the spectrum. This might have qualified me for accommodations in school such as extensions or extra time on tests. While I managed good grades without accommodations, I was constantly stressed from about fifth grade until senior year of college. Some of this stress was normal; some of it was excessive. With accommodations, I might have been able to calm down a little bit.
2. Depending on your situation, you might qualify for help, governmental or otherwise. I know people on the spectrum who meet with ARMHS (Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services) workers to help them with medical care, social skills, and other things they may struggle with as a result of autism. Other people on the spectrum live in supportive housing. While not everyone on the spectrum needs these services or qualifies for them, getting a diagnosis is the first step toward accessing such help.
3. You can get more accurate mental health care. Many people with autism are misdiagnosed with other mental health conditions such as agoraphobia, bipolar disorder, or paranoid personality disorder, and then they’re treated for those conditions. While many people on the spectrum do have other mental health conditions — depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are especially common in the autistic community — being treated, whether by medication or by therapy, for a condition one does not actually have can be useless at best and deeply counterproductive at worst. Getting an autism diagnosis can help explain a number of symptoms that psychologists reach for a grab-bag of labels to explain otherwise, and it can also alert psychologists to the need to explain diagnostic questions thoroughly and to be sensitive to how literal their patient may be.
4. Joining the autism community — whether through a diagnosis or through self-identification — can expose you to people who “get it” for the first time. I struggled for much of my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood with feeling, as I kept putting it, “unanticipated.” I followed rules to the letter, took nearly everything I heard literally, and had extremely rigid thought processes, and authority figures and peers in my life did not seem to anticipate I would work this way. It was deeply frustrating, especially when following instructions to the letter actually resulted in me getting in trouble because they weren’t meant literally. Joining support groups for autistic people gave me a community, for the first time, that understood how I functioned.
I hope this piece will convince some of you who have been wondering for years to finally get assessed for autism. While stigma does exist and a diagnosis is not a silver bullet, if you’re autistic, then you’re autistic with or without an official diagnosis. Getting that diagnosis has several benefits, some of which I outlined above and some of which I probably don’t know about yet. Best of luck!
Getty image by Mykyta Dolmatov.