Honouring My Needs With Those Who Appreciate My Differences: Late-Identified Autism Interview
This is the 40th interview in my series Interviewing Late-Identified Autistics. Rebecca is a late-identified autistic. My questions are in bold and Rebecca’s responses follow in regular typeface.
What name do you use and, if you want to share it, what pronouns do you use?
Rebecca Caution, she/her, 40 years old
How old were you when you learned you were autistic?
39 years old
How did you learn you are autistic?
Initially, the observations I made about family members led me to recognise similarities in myself. In my work, as a coach and holistic practitioner, clients who were neurodivergent and shared their experiences also served as a mirror. The process was like a slowly dripping tap over a fairly long period and gradually the dripping became faster and the drops became larger! A good friend of mine (who was going through the process of recognising her young daughter's autism at the time) signposted me to a podcast in which the host shared her experience of learning about her autism. I remember very clearly what I felt the day I listened to it. I recognised myself so vividly in the podcast and cried so much that my body seemed to convulse with emotion.
How did you decide whether to self-identify or diagnose?
I grappled with this, as most of us do, I expect. Ultimately, it was important to me to know for sure, so I could stop accusing myself of making it all up and making a fuss over nothing, so I decided to have a formal assessment. I needed to know. I'm not sure if anyone close to me would have really believed me, explored, or understood what autism meant without the assessment report. Though I do still question myself despite having the official stamp from an expert, going through this process has been a positive experience for me. I think a huge contributing factor was my decision to be assessed by an autistic professional who is an expert in autism in adult women. That made such a difference to me and how I showed up to the assessment.
How did you feel when you learned you were autistic?
I felt elated. I felt seen and validated in a way I'm not sure I'd ever felt before. It felt important and like a huge weight had been lifted from me. I was totally unmasked during the assessment. It made me realise how established the mask was. I'm not 100% sure I'd ever shown even myself what I looked like unmasked before the assessment. After that initial sense of elation, emotions were up and down. It hasn't been a linear process integrating my autistic identity. It has been just over a year since my assessment and I am feeling good about it. I'm very fortunate to have a lot of support and control over my environment and how I live my life.
How do any of your identities (ex. gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc.) impact your late identification as autistic?
It's hard to say for sure, but I imagine being female enabled me to mask like a pro and internalise a lot of my difficulties. I am intelligent, even gifted (a label I really struggle with), and went to an all-girl's school which was very academic. I was surrounded by other girls like me, so my intelligence didn't seem out of the ordinary. Neither did my struggles, which manifested (amongst other things) as anxiety, depression, feeling misunderstood and alone, never quite grasping what was required of me, grappling with my sense of self, an overriding sense of injustice and meaninglessness, and extreme tiredness. I kept it mostly inside, did well academically, maintained friendships, and didn't cause much trouble, so there was little for anyone to pay much attention to. I suspect a lot of my friends would likely identify with some or many of the characteristics of my AuDHD profile.
How did your friends and family respond when you told them you are autistic?
Everyone I've told has been supportive, though I suspect a lot of people don't really understand what autism means. A couple of friends I told were wholly congratulatory, which felt really special to me and I loved them for it. I suspect it's been as much a journey for my family and my partner as it has been for me. When you tell those close to you, they go through their own process of understanding and integrating what it means for them and for your relationship with them. I have a lot of compassion for that. It's not something they were able to choose. I forced that journey upon them because it was the right thing for me and I didn't particularly consider what it would mean for them. Ultimately, everyone has come to a really good place. I think our relationships have deepened and I'm very grateful for that. It's quite amazing the ripple effect it can have.
Did you seek out therapy, coaching, or other forms of structured support for autism?
Yes, I'm currently working with a coach and therapist who specialises in ND work and is ND herself. That's been wonderful. She has really helped me to allow myself to be who I am and be proud of who I am. I've worked with coaches in the past, accessed various forms of holistic and conventional therapies, and gained something from all of it, but working with someone who has the ND lens is really very different. I wish everyone could access this kind of support. It's a lifeline to have someone who really sees you and helps you to see yourself as you are.
How has learning you are autistic impacted your life?
I feel like I found something I've been searching for as far back as I can remember. I can't really articulate how brilliant that feels. That's not to say that the difficulties aren't still there, but the autism diagnosis means I no longer have to ask myself what's wrong with me or look for ways to fix myself. I can accept who I am.
Your Current Life
How have you modified or adapted your life since learning you’re autistic?
I haven't hugely modified my life since learning I'm autistic because I'd already been fortunate enough to design my life around my needs and that of my family. I work online and for myself, which means I have a large amount of control over my environment and my time. I can prioritise looking after myself and build everything else around that. What has changed is feeling more equipped to assert my needs without feeling the need to explain them or feel worried or guilty about them. That's really powerful.
In what ways does being autistic enhance your life?
Being autistic enhances my life in so many ways. I get absolutely lost in my interests. I feel so very deeply. I have incredibly deep conversations and connect with people when I'm at my best. I am creative and can connect ideas in ways others don't. My entire body responds in absolute joy when I sing in four-part harmony with my choir. I am open and honest and inspire others to do the same.
What are some of the challenges you face in being autistic?
Exhaustion is a challenge I face in being autistic. All of the things that enhance my life are also challenges on a different day of the week, or even from one moment to the next. I have to navigate life very carefully, especially because I have children who need me to meet their needs. I can't just collapse when I need to recover from social interaction or a period of hyperfocus.
My AuDHD profile means I experience intense highs and lows and it's really important that I keep on top of my diet, sleep, exercise, hydration, and all the other practices which keep me regulated, like writing and breathwork. This might sound like nothing, but autism means poor interoception (body awareness), so even recognising my needs can be really difficult. I forget to eat or don't realise I haven't drunk water or that I need to use the toilet.
My openness and honesty have been taken advantage of in the past. That's been really difficult to reflect on. Social interaction is also a minefield. It takes a lot of cognitive effort. Even more challenging is the workplace. Working for an employer was a nightmare. The environment was a sensory onslaught and the hierarchies and politics often made me physically ill.
If you work, what do you do for work? How does your autistic identity impact your work?
I am a coach, EFT practitioner, and breathworker and I think my autistic identity is what makes me good at these roles. I am very intuitive and attuned to others. I don't really know how to describe it, but I know it's central to my work. I feel what they feel and I know what they need to hear in the moment when we are working together. Since learning I'm autistic, I've been slowly shifting my focus to working with ND clients and absolutely loving it. In my experience, and I imagine for other NDs, embodied work, creativity, and energy work are all incredibly therapeutic.
Is there anyone else in your family who is neurodiverse, autistic, or otherwise?
Yes, there are many of us who are neurodiverse and I really love how my ownership of the identity seems to have been timed with others in my wider family. It seems as though the more awareness grows, the more people can come out of the shadows, understand and accept themselves instead of shaming themselves for what is a natural human variance.
What helps you prevent or cope with moments of overwhelm?
Both breathwork and EFT have been very supportive tools for me, hence my training for them and bringing them into my work. Diet, movement, and getting enough rest are all important. I also find writing and singing very therapeutic.
Being creative every day with my journaling practice is non-negotiable. Without it, I feel lost.
Having the support of a partner who understands me and can recognise when I can't that I am nearing crisis mode is a real gift.
I have also been able to create an existence whereby I am not forced into environments or cultures which make me unwell.
I'm very lucky and count my blessings every day. This is what I want for all autistic people. If we are allowed to live in environments that honour our needs with people who appreciate our differences, we can thrive.
Connecting with You
If someone would like to connect with you, how can they reach you?
You can connect with me on LinkedIn.
Do you have any works, websites, or other creative ventures you would like to share with others?
I write a weekly newsletter, A Word of Caution in which I share my experiences as an AuDHD adult, a holistic coach building my own business, and a woman accommodating the needs of my ND family.
You can also read my imaginatively titled blog, also named A Word of Caution.
Thank you for reading. I’m looking for more late-identified autistics to complete interviews just like this one. I’ll send you the questions and you can complete them on your own time. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.