How Did You Feel when You First found Out that You are Autistic?
How did you feel when you first found out that you are autistic?
This is the question I asked of autistic Instagrammers this week. I really wasn’t sure what answers I would get, whether they would be happy or sad. The answers I received have made a few things clear to me. Here are the responses:
“I was at a school where autism was something that people were bullied for; I was scared.”
“I was diagnosed as an adult, so as I learnt about autism, all my life made sense to me at once.”
“Curious, relieved, and depressed…but then empowered.”
“So much at once. I was 29 and in denial for weeks because I couldn’t cope with ‘another label’. Then after further research, it turned out it actually decreased my labels and gave me such relief. Now I feel less alone and no labels, it’s just me. I’m proud.”
“Like my life finally made sense.”
“I was 5 years old. I didn’t know what autism was. I was more like, ‘Oh, okay’.”
“I was very happy when I got my diagnosis because I could finally understand myself, but there is still a lot of trauma from my childhood even though my parents did everything out of love for me. So even though younger people are scared and adults somewhat happy [when they get diagnosed], it is still very hard to live in a world that doesn’t (want to) understand neurodiversity.”
“It was helpful meeting other autistics. I felt ‘normal’. I had a lot of trauma around being misunderstood and mistreated so finding a community of people who make complete sense of one other is really comforting. Less effort so less stress. Learning that neurodiversity is the explanation for everything is super neat and is empowering.”
From what I understand, if children are told about their autism diagnosis at a young age and are raised to believe that it is their ‘normal’, they have healthier self-esteems than those who find out in their teen years. The teen years are so full of angst anyway, to know that you are different but don’t know why can be soul-destroying. Children can be very judgmental, and bullying is rife at many schools. Getting an autism diagnosis during teen years while already coping with all the stresses those years bring, can be very frightening and can lead to feelings of shame, inferiority and depression. Diagnosing a child when they are young and teaching them that being neurodivergent is simply a difference in brain processing, and that differences are beautiful, can go a long way to building the child’s inner strength and resilience.
For those autistics who are diagnosed as adults, it seems that the diagnosis brings a sense of relief and understanding. Up to the point of diagnosis, they may have been misunderstood, mistreated, made to feel shame at their differences, with no understanding on their part as to why they don’t fit in. The autism diagnosis is an explanation to them, and a defining moment in their lives when they can finally say, “I am not broken. I am not weird. I am autistic.” This can lead to discovering a whole community of autistic people out there, and when you find your community you no longer feel alone. As one respondent said, this is empowering. And for people who have felt alone, ashamed, weak, different and marginalized, empowered is a great way to feel.
It is time all stigma is removed from the autism diagnosis. There is so much to learn about this community, its individuals and how the brain works, as well as other neurological differences, as autism is just one of many. There is no ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’, there is neurotypical and neurodivergent, and neurodiversity encompasses both. There are many different ways our brains function, there just happen to be more people classified as ‘neurotypical’. Teach our children to have respect and empathy, and they will grow into adults with the same. There is no time like the present.