How Finally Being Diagnosed as Autistic Taught Me I'm Not Alone
Getting a diagnosis can be important. While diagnoses may not be for everyone, and not everyone has the privilege of being able to get diagnosed, it can be so liberating for those of us who want or need a diagnosis.
There’s sometimes a lot of stigma around being professionally diagnosed with anything. I think people often immediately see a diagnosis as a weakness or an inconvenience. While that can be the case for some, that isn’t always the case. Everyone’s experiences are different.
There’s a lot of stigma around self-diagnosis as well. People often talk about why it can be dangerous, but self-diagnosis can also be a stepping stone to better things.
Growing up, I was always the kid who stood out. I either didn’t talk enough, or I talked too much. I was either ignored or I was “too much.” I couldn’t really make friends, I didn’t get along with many people, and I didn’t know why that happened. The friends I did have often approached me first simply because I didn’t know how to talk to people. I didn’t understand why my friends would laugh at certain things, but I’d laugh anyway because I didn’t want to feel left out.
I used to copy the peers I perceived as popular and likable as a way to make myself more likable and make friends. It never worked, but it was the only thing I could think of doing. I didn’t understand why nobody liked me.
I also had little “quirks” that I now understand to be sensory issues and aversions. These often resulted in me being the butt of a joke or just flat-out disrespected.
I didn’t like my food touching, and I hated certain textures. I wanted to jump out of my skin if I touched certain things. Eye contact physically made me want to throw up. People looking at me so intently when they were talking to me made me want to cry or vanish. I had to do things a certain way too. I didn’t know why, but it would cause me so much stress if I couldn’t do things the way I wanted to or someone interrupted me or made me stop.
I had a lot of anxieties that other people around me who also had anxiety may not worry about. I wondered whether other people “script” what they are going to say to the next person they’re meeting or analyze every conversation in their heads. They didn’t seem to break into a sweat because they knew people were looking at them and they were terrified that they were making a fool of themselves or weirding other people out.
I had stims as well, like bouncing my leg and rocking forwards and backwards. Sometimes when I was swaying or twisting while standing in one place, other people pointed it out and told me to stop. It made me feel like a “freak.”
It wasn’t until well after high school that I really learned what autism was. I did research and talked to others in the community, and it was like I was seen for the first time ever. We shared so many stories and experiences. It was like, “Holy fuck — this is me. This is why I feel the way I do. I’m not the only person like this.” I just needed to figure out what to do next.
I sought out therapists. However, I soon figured out that quickly getting someone to listen to me and hear me out wouldn’t be easy. I had multiple therapists dismiss my symptoms as generalized anxiety or the aftermath of my depression, my attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and just try to give me pills. I had a therapist who told me directly that I “just really want to be diagnosed” because I brought up my concerns and wanted to get evaluated for autism. These same therapists would also dismiss me when I spoke about it and proceed to talk about another topic as if it were “more important” than my symptoms.
After a few years, I found a doctor who actually listened to me. He asked me a few basic questions, and he finally referred me for an autism evaluation.
On March 17, I took a six-hour evaluation, and on April 7, I got the results of my evaluation.
I am autistic.
I’m not going to say that all of my problems are solved and life is great now — because it’s not. My official diagnosis will come with its own challenges, like how the world will see me and how people’s treatment of me will change. It also might influence how my jobs and relationships will go. Still, a lot of positives will also come out of my autism diagnosis.
For one, I now know that I’m not alone — and I never have been. I grew up feeling like an alien, learning to “mask” and force myself to accommodate everyone else around me so as to not be seen as “weird” or “annoying.” I never should have felt that way because there is nothing wrong with me. I don’t need to be fixed. My brain just developed differently, and my next step is to learn how to embrace that I’m autistic and live a life that’s best for me.
Moving forward with the knowledge that I am autistic, I can proceed with taking care of myself and my mental health and practicing self-love in the ways that are best for me. I can unlearn my constant masking and stop ignoring my burnout. I can also research and find communities that fit me. I may be able to get benefits that otherwise would’ve been dismissed.
Professional diagnosis isn’t for everyone and isn’t always easily accessible. I am privileged in lots of ways, and I was lucky to eventually find someone who took me seriously and was able to diagnose me as autistic.
There is nothing “wrong” with me, and I don’t need to be fixed. I am not weird, and I am not a “freak.” I am neurodivergent and need to do things differently to make life easier for me, and that’s OK.
Getty image by SDI Productions.