Receiving the diagnosis of ASD can be many things; scary, surprising, an explanation, a relief, etc. I’ve always viewed it as the first step in the path of overcoming the obstacles you’re inevitably going to face due to the condition. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (which is no longer a thing by the way) back when I was 14. That’s pretty late in life, especially when compared to many of my fellow students in the Learning Academy back when I attended in 2014-15. For many of us, the signs have already shown themselves by early childhood, but what happens when they go unnoticed or even ignored for decades? It used to be that adults were essentially never diagnosed with autism, and it was seriously stigmatized. While things have improved at this point, I still feel like autism is viewed as something only young kids experience; that it just goes away once you reach 21. In this piece, I want to discuss the process of diagnosing an adult with ASD is like, and how it feels to receive a diagnosis so late in life.
As I mentioned, autism awareness seems heavily geared towards children. Thankfully, with so many breakthroughs in the psychological fields lately, making early diagnoses is more efficient than ever. However, sometimes people can slip through the cracks, and that’s where the problems begin. Katherine Stavropoulos, a mental health clinician, lays out some of the issues with adult cases. One major reason why clinicians are hesitant to test adults is because of this clause in the DSM-5 regarding ASD: “Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).” Say someone in their 30s wants to receive a diagnosis, it’s no simple task to get a complete rundown of their childhood, especially if they have no close relatives. In addition, many of the testing methods for ASD are geared towards kids and teens, but as of just a few years ago, a new test called the Adult Repetitive Behavior Questionnaire (RBQ-2) was developed, which has seen use as a convenient tool in this regard. Perhaps consider checking it out if you find yourself in a similar situation to what I’m describing.
So what’s it like being diagnosed in your 20s or even beyond? I’ve always been grateful to have received my diagnosis when I did, since I’ve had 10 years to form healthy and effective coping strategies. Imagine being like Samantha Ranaghan, who was 34 when she got diagnosed. Actually, maybe it’s not too hard to imagine, as (despite the age gap) I found everything she talked about in her blog to be incredibly relatable to how I felt. From finally feeling “normal,” to life making sense, people saying “you don’t act like you have autism,” it seemed to be a positive thing in her life. This is just one case of course, but there’s very little out there of adults talking about their diagnosis. While everyone deserves a proper evaluation, I can’t help but feel adult ASD diagnoses will only become rarer in the future as we get better and better at detecting it from a young age.