From ActuallyAutistic Wiki
If you are here reading this Wiki, you may have already started the questioning process yourself! Many late-diagnosed autistic people can recall a moment of "realization" when they first learned that they might be autistic. This could be from learning about autism online, being informed by a therapist or other professional that they exhibit autistic traits, or speaking with another autistic person and learning from their knowledge and experience of being autistic.
- It is extremely common and normal to doubt during the questioning process whether you might "really" be autistic. You likely internalized the inaccurate stereotypes that society holds about autism (that is okay! It is not your fault that you did not know better.) Therefore, you might have had a certain impression of autism (See Misconceptions below) for years that may not fit with your experience of autism. Many people are only able to realize that they are autistic after learning that autism truly is a SPECTRUM, and that there are many factors which influence our presentations, including masking, being AFAB, trauma, and much more.
- You may find yourself worrying that you could be "faking." This is a form of self-gaslighting that can occur after having the experience of someone "not believing you" about your autism (which is unfortunately common), or from seeing inaccurate information about autism. Your own perception and experience of your life is valid and real, no matter what other people say.
Stages of realization
- The questioning step in the process goes along with research. If the more you research and learn about autism and the experiences of other autistic people, the more you relate and feel seen, then you are likely autistic. Late-diagnosed autistic people begin the process of rewriting the narrative of their life from the viewpoint that they are autistic rather than neurotypical like they used to believe. This can be immensely relieving, because most undiagnosed autistic people go through their lives believing that they are inadequate or deficient in some way, when this was never the case. The famous Albert Einstein (a suspected autistic!) quote, "If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid" applies here. Autistic people often have low self-esteem, because they may have internalized various negative beliefs about themselves due to difficulties that they have faced throughout their lives as a result of not receiving accommodations for their autism. This process often results in a wide range of emotions including joy, rage, sadness, grief, and more, but the end goal is acceptance.
Addressing misconceptions about Autism
There are many common misconceptions and inaccurate stereotypes about autism out there, which may make you doubt yourself during the questioning process. Below are some of these and why they are incorrect.
- Some people think that it is possible to "look" autistic, but this is absolutely not the case. All autistic people are different: we all have unique interests, hobbies, careers, preferences, comorbidities, fashion tastes, and more. While some autistic people may stim visibly at times, autism does NOT have any certain appearance.
- Just because you may not have some autistic traits does not necessarily mean that you are not autistic. That is why it is a SPECTRUM. Each individual autistic person has a unique combination of autistic traits - some traits they may not even have at all, and others they may have very strongly. It is a common misbelief that autism exists on a scale of mild to severe, whereas the autism spectrum is a multidimensional gradient of traits.
- "But everyone does that!" Many autistic traits are ASSOCIATED with autism, but that does not mean that they are LIMITED to autistic people only. Autistic traits are experienced by autistic people at a much greater frequency and can be more severe/debilitating in autistic people as compared to neurotypical people who have similar traits. For example, sensory issues are associated with autism, and this can manifest in many ways including being a "picky eater" (autistic people may have difficulty tolerating certain tastes and textures, depending on what they may be sensitive to). Some neurotypical people can also be considered "picky eaters," but that does not negate the validity of taste/texture sensory avoidance as an autistic trait.
- Some autistic traits, like stimming, overlap with the symptoms of other mental health disorders, like ADHD.
- Some common autistic traits, which are not technically part of the neurodevelopment manifestations/diagnostic criteria of autism, are extremely common in autistic people because they result from the trauma of living in a world designed for neurotypical people (which often does not accommodate us and misinterprets us). These include things like anxiety, which can be experienced by neurotypical people as well.