So You’ve Just Learned You’re Autistic…
So you’ve just learned you’re autistic, huh?
Congratulations and welcome to the world of Neurodiversity! I promise, the rest of us are just as weird as you and we’re glad to have you!
You’re probably wondering how you could have gotten to this age without knowing, but adult diagnosis is actually quite common, especially in autistic women. If you’ve just been diagnosed with autism or your child’s ASD diagnosis has shed new light on your own life, here are some good first steps.
Maybe you’re thrilled to know for sure, to have a name for what’s made you feel so odd all your life. This might be a validation of something you’ve suspected for years and you want to shout it from the rooftops. But maybe you’re upset about getting a label applied to you. If you’ve fought your whole life to be “normal”, getting a diagnosis could feel like you’ve failed. Then again, maybe you’re having trouble dealing with the idea of being “disabled” – after all, you’ve gotten this far in life without help. All of these are valid reactions.
Breathe. Take it in. Let it settle.
You don’t have to tell anyone until you know what it means to you and you’re comfortable with it.
Reframe Your Life
This is an ongoing process, but I’d advise you to start right now.
If you’re just receiving an autism diagnosis as an adult, you’ve probably spent your life thinking there was something wrong with you or wondering why you couldn’t do what other people could. There’s likely been a ton of self-esteem issues and self-loathing, all of which you’ve hidden from other people.
Stop. That. NOW.
Look back at your life through the lens of your autism diagnosis. When you thought you failed or couldn’t keep up with others, you were probably overwhelmed, overstimulated, or in a situation that didn’t work with your neurology.
You are not broken, you are autistic.
This reframing will go on for the rest of your life, so start now and keep making the effort to see where you’ve blamed yourself for things that were never your fault.
Forgive yourself for all those times you thought you were bad or wrong or useless, etc. You were not. You just didn’t have the help you needed.
Forgive yourself for not loving yourself because you didn’t understand. Make a promise to love yourself as you are from now on, understanding that you are autistic and that’s ok. You’re ok the way you are.
Forgiving parents, teachers, other caregivers, or bullies is a nice idea, but I don’t think it’s important when you’ve just been diagnosed. That forgiveness is not nearly as important as forgiving yourself. Make peace with yourself and you can get around to forgiving others later. Take care of you first.
Learn Everything You Can
Learn all you can about autism in general and about YOUR autism in particular – no two autistic people are alike, although we all have things in common.
Learn your weaknesses but also your strengths, so you can know where to focus your energy and what to avoid. You can improve in almost any area you want to, but some things will always be more difficult for you and you don’t have to put all your efforts into those things. Play to your strengths and what you love and you’ll be much happier and more at ease.
Learn what stims help you and how to use them to your advantage to self-regulate. Do you love glittery things? Mesmerizing videos? Do you need something in your hands, like knitting or embroidery or jewelry you can play with? Personally, I love swings and rocking chairs, how about you?
Check out some good resources that will help you understand what it means to be autistic.
The Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network is a welcoming group that helps newly diagnosed people learn from other autistic adults about what their struggles are, how they cope, and what they love about being autistic.
Dr. Tony Attwood from Australia is a great resource for anyone who gets diagnosed as an adult. He specializes in diagnosing women and adults even into their 70s and 80s. Dr. Attwood believes that those people who have lived for six or seven decades without any diagnosis or interventions are our “tribal elders”, those from whom we can learn how we can survive and thrive in this world that wasn’t made for us. He does use functioning labels, which most of the autistic community disagrees with, and the term “Asperger’s Syndrome”, which has fallen out of acceptance in the community, but his work is very important. I encourage you to check out all his videos as well as the material on his site.
NeuroClastic – formerly The Aspergian – is a fantastic place to start learning about autism and neurodiversity. They publish articles by adults, teens, and parents for a good overview of all aspects of the autism spectrum. They also have a great Facebook group: “NeuroClastic has an article for that”!
Lastly, there are some amazing autistic voices in social media. Neurodivergent Rebel, The Autistic Life, The Autistic OT, and Aspergirl all have big social media presences across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, so whatever your preferred platform, you can find them. They are some of my favorite people to follow because they put out such insightful, relatable content about their autistic experiences and ideas about how we can make things better for all autistic people. There are hundreds more, these four are just some favorites of mine that I’m comfortable referring newly diagnosed people to.
There are lots of us and we are everywhere. You are not alone.
Start with those social media accounts I mentioned above, and you’ll quickly find other people commenting and sharing and saying things that make you think “it’s not just me!”. There are Facebook groups to join and blogs to read (like this one).
You may even know some autistic adults personally, as well, but they might not know it or they might not be ready to talk about it yet. Gravitate to the people you feel safe and comfortable with, those who will accept you as you are.
Remember You Are Not Broken
In school, you might have been a perfectionist who tried to mask your struggles. You might have grown up with people constantly asking “Why can’t you…” or “What’s wrong with you?” or “You’re so smart, why is this so hard for you?”. Maybe teachers called you lazy or stupid when you were really trying your best. They were wrong.
I can’t say this enough.
YOU ARE NOT BROKEN. You’re autistic. You are just as you are meant to be.
Welcome to the club. We’ve got your back.
These are just the first steps for you to come to terms with your diagnosis yourself. Next week, I’ll cover Part 2, more practical concerns about how to be an autistic adult in the NT world.
What questions do you have? Ask them in the comments – I don’t pretend to know everything, but I’ll tell you what I know and I’ll point you to other sources. Let’s talk!