So You’ve Just Learned You’re Autistic… Part 2
Last week I talked about coming to terms with an adult autism diagnosis, accepting yourself for who you are and forgiving yourself for not knowing in the past. Today, I’m going to talk about the choices you face as an autistic adult. After you’ve taken the time to understand and appreciate your autism diagnosis, there are other considerations.
First, let me be clear on this: THERE ARE NO MEDICATIONS FOR AUTISM.
However, there are medications that can help with many of the co-occurring conditions and help you function better in your everyday life. You might want to consider some of these options.
Lots of autistic adults live with anxiety disorders because the world is bright and loud and scary and unpredictable and people are always ready to make fun of us if we get something wrong. Whether it’s social anxiety, agoraphobia, or generalized anxiety disorder, our anxiety holds us back and makes life harder than it has to be. There are plenty of meds available for anxiety control. I take Klonopin myself, some people take Ativan, and others use antidepressants like Paxil or Celexa. If you feel you need medical help with your anxiety, there are lots of options.
ADHD/Executive Function Problems
If you struggle with time management, staying on top of chores or bills, or keeping track of appointments, you’re probably dealing with ADHD symptoms or executive function problems. This is really common in autistic adults – if you’ve always felt like you didn’t learn how to adult, this could be why! There are a ton of ADHD meds on the market, some stimulants and some non-stimulants. Many of them are short-acting so you can take them just for work and then have your evenings and weekends to do with as you please. Be watchful for side effects with these meds, because they can sneak up on you and have long-term consequences.
Antidepressants can be very useful for some people. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, to choose from and they all have slightly different effects based on your personal chemistry. If you want to try antidepressants, try to be specific about your symptoms when you talk to your doctor so they can narrow down which class is likely to work best for you and be prepared to try several different meds and doses. Sometimes it just takes time to find the right ones.
For all medications, remember – you are an adult, and nobody can force you to take any of these meds. If you don’t like the way the drugs make you feel, you can stop taking them. Only take antidepressants, ADHD meds, or anti-anxiety meds IF THEY HELP.
Disclosing Your Diagnosis
Now that you’re comfortable with your ASD diagnosis, do you tell people? This is entirely your decision and there is no right or wrong answer – only what’s right or wrong for you.
Want to tell your family? Great! Hopefully, they’ll be accepting and supportive and understand that this word – “autism” – explains a lot of the questions in your life. But they may not react the way you want. My mother asked me which vaccine caused my autism. Be prepared for any number of responses, from “No you’re not” to “You’ve gotten this far” or even “If you’d just grow up, you wouldn’t have these problems”.
The same goes for telling your friends. If you want to tell them, go for it! But understand that even the most well-meaning friends may say things like “I wouldn’t have known” or “it doesn’t show”. You might also run into those who say you “can’t be” autistic because you’re smart/you’re verbal/you can hold a job/you’re not like their friend’s kid who rocks all the time, etc., etc., etc. If your friends react like this, it doesn’t mean they’re bad people, they just don’t know enough about autism. You can teach them, if you choose.
Do You Tell Your Employer?
Disclosing your autism diagnosis at work is a whole other can of worms. Being open about your autism will make it so you can request accommodations (if and only if your company is bound by the ADA), but it will also make your bosses and co-workers look at you differently. Might not be a bad kind of different, but it will change people’s perceptions of you.
If you are employed “at will”, you might get fired after disclosing that you’re autistic, just because your boss or the higher-ups don’t want to deal with an autistic employee. This isn’t exactly legal, but “at will” employment means that an employer can fire you with or without cause. You could bring a lawsuit, but the burden would be on you to prove they fired you for being autistic. If you keep your job, you might get passed over for raises and promotions, or you might find your responsibilities get taken away.
I don’t say all this to scare you into hiding your autism at work. If you can be authentic, I think that’s always best! And it’s almost guaranteed that some of your co-workers have some connection to an autistic child, and it would be great for them to see a capable autistic adult. But there is still stigma and as much as we would like every diagnosis to be greeted with showers of rainbows, it doesn’t always work that way. As autistic adults, we have to protect ourselves and our livelihoods, so this choice is all about what’s best for you.
If you’ve made it to adulthood as an autistic without any diagnosis or interventions, you’ve almost certainly gone through some stuff. You probably have some history with bullying, abuse, unhealthy relationships, or other trauma (some say that just being autistic in the NT world is a form of ongoing trauma). Therapy can help with a lot of that if you can find a therapist who is experienced with autistic adults. If you choose to get professional therapy, vet your therapist carefully and don’t be afraid to find someone else if your therapist makes you feel invalidated or dismissed. Don’t pay someone to make you feel bad when you’re trying to feel better!
Social skills are often a big struggle for autistic adults. I know I’ve often wished for a group where I could practice social skills like starting and exiting conversations or learning enough small talk to get me through an evening with people I don’t know well. Such groups do exist, if you can find them. Mostly they’ll be geared toward adults with social anxiety, but you might be able to find a group specifically for autistic adults. Check with your autistic adult-friendly therapist to see if there’s an appropriate group for you. If it turns out that it’s not what you need, then you don’t have to keep going.
These are the first big considerations you face after an adult autism diagnosis. But you don’t have to make these choices all at once. Do your research, read up on your options, and talk to your doctor or therapist as well as other autistic adults. Ask any questions you have here and I’ll do my best to answer them or I’ll point you to better resources.
Remember – you’re not broken, you’re autistic!