Learning I was autistic in my mid-30’s was certainly a mix of emotions. I felt relieved to finally understand myself, and yet also sad that there were certain aspects of myself that could not change.
I embarked on a journey of digging into myself and understanding my quirks, habits, and ways of being from a new autistic lens. I thought about how I used to rip off my socks the minute I got home from preschool so I could pick the lint out from between my toes. I thought about the difficulties I had with friendships and relationships. I basically thought about EVERYTHING and re-interpreted what happened.
This has been a largely fruitful and beneficial journey. I now understand what parts of myself I can change, and what parts I need to accept. I understand why I struggle with certain things and what leads me to nervous system overload. I’ve learned many new strategies to work with my autistic life and I feel significantly happier than before.
What I didn’t realize is that a parallel journey was taking place on the side. I was beginning to understand my family differently. Since so much of my energy was focused on understanding what my autism identity meant for myself, I didn’t initially put much focus on my family. But as more time has passed and my questions about myself have settled - more of my energy has gone toward understanding my family.
Just as I saw myself with new eyes, I also see my family with new eyes. I see certain relatives that I strongly suspect are autistic. I can now interpret and understand their behavior from a new lens. Things that used to hurt and I took very personally, I now understand are autistic characteristics. For example, when a family member likes to monologue or fails to ask me a single question about my life. Or when another family member insensitively remarks about something at the worst time possible.
What’s hard is that autism is still in the shadows. My family has not been able to have fruitful discussions about autism. The closest I got was telling my family member that I’m autistic, and that we share a lot of similar traits. He agreed, and then went straight to talking about his special interest. A VERY autistic thing to do, but also very frustrating. I want to have deep conversations about autism, but no one is as interested as I am.
I think it makes sense. If they only think of autism as old stereotypes (which I’ve written about in my essay Old Autism Stereotypes Prevent People From Knowing They’re Autistic), then they stand to gain nothing from identifying as autistic. Furthermore, they’re not interested in understanding me better. They’re interested in other things. I can take that personally, or just understand that’s how they are.
Currently, it’s actually a mix of both. It still hurts AND I understand it’s the way they are. One benefit of me learning about my autistic characteristics is that I’ve been able to own my difficulties and address some of the challenging aspects of myself (you can read about that in my essay I Used to Be Extremely Judgmental).
I wish I could have the same conversations with my family. To name the ways we misunderstand and unintentionally hurt each other. An understanding of the role of autism could go a LONG way. But they’re not ready for that, and that is something I have to hold.
In the meantime, I’ll keep digging in and re-seeing my family from a new lens, so that I can release more pain and be ready for the conversation when the time comes.
Thank you for reading. If you’d like to read more, sign up for my FUNletter. If you would like to explore your autistic identity with an autistic therapist, you can learn more about my therapy services here.