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Getting a late diagnosis of autism

Updated: Jan 10

Late diagnosis or self-identification is common in the neurodivergent community. Many people, particularly women and gender minorities, only realise they might be neurodivergent once they reach adulthood or later.

This late diagnosis/identification can bring with it many emotions!

Some of the emotions my clients have commonly felt after late diagnosis/identification include:

  • Joy- you might be able to understand and advocate for your needs finally

  • Excitement- you might feel excited to start this new part of your life

  • A sense of belonging in the neurodivergent community

  • Sadness- you might feel sad that you didn't know until now

  • Heartbreak for their younger self who didn't know and didn't receive support

  • Surprise- you might feel confused or overwhelmed by the realisation

  • Anger - you might feel angry at the world, frustrated that you only just found out, frustrated with the lack of support for adults

  • Worry- you might worry about the future and feel helpless or anxious about telling others.

  • Calm- you might feel free, relaxed, proud and at peace.

What was the first emotion you felt after diagnosis/self-identification?

  • 0%joy

  • 0%excitement

  • 0%sadness

  • 0%surprise

These are common emotions, and your emotions towards your late diagnosis/identification may change over time. All these emotions and more are valid!

Late diagnosis/identification can make you re-evaluate your entire life up until this point. Considering what needs you have had unmet until now, and what do you need to do to change this? It can also be a challenge to consider the idea that maybe you have been masking, and trying to figure out who the unmasked you is can be a challenge! It can even feel like an identity crisis for some.

'who am I now that I know this significant thing about myself, and who do I want to be'?
'How can I be more of my authentic self, not the self I may have constructed to fit in with my neurotypical peers'?

You might also spend some time reflecting on your past, and how people treated you in response to what you now know are neurodivergent traits. You may feel sad for your past self, who perhaps struggled through school not knowing why things were so much harder for them.

Perhaps you reflect on how you treated yourself too. It's common for late-diagnosed/identified neurodivergents to have spent years beating themselves up about their social skills, emotions, clumsiness, organisation etc. And perhaps now you know why you had challenges in this area, you can consider how you could treat yourself more kindly going forward.

Of course, another challenge is how do you approach family, friends and employers about your new diagnosis/identification? How will they react? The idea of going through this can be a little daunting. Some people choose to have a big celebration, think 'congratulations on your autism' cake, while others prefer to disclose to a select few people. Whichever option you choose, there is a possibility that other people may not react in the way you were hoping. For many people, this includes comments such as 'everyone's a bit autistic/ADHDer/dyspraxic etc ' or 'you don't seem autistic/ADHDer/dyspraxic etc'. This can be difficult because comments like these can invalidate your challenges and identity. On the other hand, people may respond better than you had imagined, accepting you for who you are, and providing you with support and validation.

Another challenge that sometimes arises as a late diagnosis/identication neurodivergent is the concept of becoming 'more autistic/ADHD/dyspraxic etc'. Other people in your life might start to notice your traits more after your diagnosis/self-identification; this is because you might have finally received the validation you needed to start being your authentic self. This can mean unmasking more in front of other people, making you see to them 'more autistic etc'. This can cause those around you to question your diagnosis or believe that gaining a diagnosis makes someone act differently due to them now being aware of the traits. However, this is simply unmasking. They are seeing the 'real' you. And this can be difficult for some people to comprehend, especially if they have known you for years.

This is just a small snippet of some of the common experiences I encounter with my clients who are late-diagnosed/identified adults, a lot of which I can identify with too. Once you get your diagnosis or self-identify a lot of emotions may arise, and this is ok and completely normal! Speaking to other neurodivergent people about what you are feeling can be helpful while you are navigating this new path.

Gaining late diagnosis/identification can be challenging, especially if you feel a bit lost. There is a huge lack of support for adults in the U.K. currently; that's where I come in! If you're interested in how occupational therapy with a neurodivergent OT could support you get in touch to book a free call. We can discuss how to make your home and workplace meet your needs and discover more about your neurodivergence.

For more information about the wide variety of services I offer, visit the 'services provided' page.

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