What is the biggest obstacle to people exploring if they might be autistic?
The name itself.
When people hear the word “autism,” they think of:
A child rocking back and forth
A little boy having a tantrum that quickly escalates into screaming and biting
An aloof adult who interrupts with an inappropriate and rude observation
A 12 year old starting to hit their head when they get frustrated
A non-verbal five year old who is developmentally behind his peers
A young adult who has to live in a group home because complete independence is impossible
These are accurate portraits of autism.
But they aren’t the FULL portrait.
We now know far more about autism and how it impacts individuals. The current theories surmise that autism is a difference in the firing of neural connections in the brain. An autistic brain has neural connections that fire more frequently and in conjunction with other neural pathways. This also leads the nervous system of an autistic person to be in a state of hyper-arousal.
An individual who perceives the world differently. An autistic person’s sensory system will take in more information. An autistic person will also have more thoughts and emotions than most people. This causes them to think, feel, and behave in ways that make them distinct from others. This distinction can then cause them to have difficulty fitting in with others and socializing in neurotypical ways (you can read more about this in my essay Autism Does Not Directly Cause Socializing Problems).
Some individuals are able to develop skills to cope with these differences. Even if they don’t know their autistic, individuals with high intelligence, supportive environments, and attentive/assistive families are able to “pass” in society and develop the skills needed to grow up and live relatively independent lives.
However, many of these individuals have a deep internal sense that something is “off” about them. The external skills they develop often mask the internal angst, depression, and anxiety they feel.
These individuals would benefit greatly from learning they are autistic. Sadly, many will never even consider the possibility because all they know of autism is the narrow portrait our culture currently presents.
They are kept from a pivotal understanding of themselves that could revolutionize how they relate to themselves. Most unidentified autistics feel they are broken, and learning they are autistic liberates them from shame and a lifetime of suffering (you can read more about this in my essay I Stopped Seeing Myself as Broken When I Learned I'm Autistic)
So what can we do?
We can present more portraits of what autism looks like in a wider range of people.
There are many great medium writers doing this, such as Jean Grey, The Autist, and more. They share their personal experience of late identification.
There are also podcasters who devote their podcasts to showcasing the lives and work of autistic people, such as Autism Stories.
There are also more autistic researchers doing research on autism.
The more autistics we have showcasing what autism looks like, the better.
I try to contribute through:
Writing essays on autism (you can see them all here)
Tailoring my private practice to autistic individuals
Co-hosting a talk show on Autism called Autism Unscripted
Speaking on podcasts
Interviewing and sharing the stories of fellow late identified autistics (you can see them here)
Does every autistic need to do it to this level? No. Autism and mental health happen to be two of my special interests, so I happily throw myself into these subjects.
Autistics can choose what ways they want to contribute. For some, that looks like telling their friend they’re autistic and taking the time to explain what it means.
For others, it means sharing about their experiences through personal writing, interviews, podcasts, or other mediums that they feel comfortable.
The more we can share about who we are, in ways that feel comfortable to us, the more we can reshape the understanding of autism and help others find reflections of themselves.
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.