I found out that I was autistic at the age of twenty-nine. The Psychologist who diagnosed me recommended I read the works of autistic authors and seek out other autistic adults in order to help me to better understand autism and how it related to myself.
She sent me home with a few book titles, which I quickly devoured. I found comfort in the words and stories of the autistic authors diagnosed before me. Suddenly many things in my life began to make sense, as I started to review my stories through the newly discovered lens of autism.
The information bomb shook my personal worldview.
For much of my life, I had felt strange and alone. For the first time ever, much of what I’d thought was wired undesirable about myself began to feel acceptable and even ‘normal’. Much like when the ugly duckling realized that it was, in fact, a swan and not a duck at all. Finally, I was free.
When my doctor’s reading recommendations ran out, I turned to the internet. Unfortunately, the resources Google brought me were far less helpful, and often problematic. Most of the headlines were gloom and doom. There had to be a better place to connect and learn from others like me.
When I first hopped onto Twitter in the Fall of 2016, after my recent diagnosis I was searching, seeking information, digging for understanding, and hoping to decode what autism really meant to me.
At the beginning of my autistic discovery journey, I was a novice with many questions, so I turned to the internet and eventually started the #AskingAutistics tag, as a way to help myself and others to get all of their autism questions answered.
Of all the sources for autism information in the world, I’ve found that #ActuallyAutistic voices are my favorite.
These are the voices that should be first when people seek to learn about autism, but they are often the hardest voices to find. They helped me when I was first unpacking my own autism diagnosis and continue to help those who are newly discovering their autistic nature.
I hope this month’s question is for those of you who are still searching and learning:
#AskingAutistics: What is the one thing you wish you had known when you first discovered you were autistic?
Here are some of the responses that stood out:
I wish I had known other autistic people.
I wish I had known more about social masking. I had gotten to the point where I didn’t even realize I was masking, and it was damaging my mental health (i.e. trying to ‘get over it’ when I was experiencing sensory overload). Now I just shamelessly put on my headphones when I am.
That ‘experts’ in the Mental Health fields get so much wrong. It’s such a relief to share experiences with autistic people and know I am similar to them despite what the experts say. Especially about empathy and communication.
That I was autistic, and the words: “I’m overstimulated right now” with a solution (can you lower your voice? can I wait in the car?). I didn’t realize before that I had agency to do something when I felt overstimmed.
I would have realized I was autistic sooner, except that the descriptions of autism are from an external, NT point of view that describes observed behaviors, which did not match my internal experience.
Executive Function issues. I knew about the social stuff, and had learned a fair bit about the sensory stuff (and my parents knew and understood my more obvious sensory issues), but I had no idea about the #ExecutiveDysfunction or how much it affected.
I didn’t find out I was Autistic until my late 30s, and the hardest part was learning about masking – or rather – learning how to unmask and unlearn a lot of the things I did to hide my symptoms that had become unhealthy habits and created lots of stress and anxiety in my life.
That I would like myself one day.
That we mask for other people’s benefit not our own. I thought for so long that other people feeling comfortable around me benefitted me despite having to mask and it literally doesn’t. If they don’t like me as I am they don’t like me and I won’t waste my time :p
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