How to Self-Identify Autism as an Adult
Many individuals today choose to self-identify as autistic instead of going the traditional diagnosis route.
Autistics make this choice for numerous reasons, including:
Lack of availability of diagnosticians for adults (you can read more about this in my essay Who Can Diagnose Autism?)
Cost of diagnosis
Outdated testing that relies on the medical model, resulting in missed diagnoses and misdiagnosis (also addressed in my Who Can Diagnose Autism?)
Dismissive diagnosticians who are not educated in neurodiversity (addressed in my essay The Gap Between Diagnosable Autism and a Lifetime of Unidentiried Autism)
Due to how quickly the field of autism is expanding (I call it The Autistic Awakening), there is a vast amount of new information and resources available to autistics. The mental health field is not keeping up in educating its professionals. Frequently, individuals who self-educate about autism know more than professionals (I write about this in my essay Autistic Adults Deserve Better from the Mental Health Field).
Many individuals also feel their own perspectives and understandings of themselves are sufficient to self-identity.
But how does someone gain sufficient knowledge to self-identify?
I have some suggestions:
1. Learn what autism looks like from a neurodivergent perspective
A neurodivergent lens rejects the medical model of classifying autism as a disorder based on negative traits. It sees autism as a different neurotype, resulting in different characteristics. By reading books and articles, you can learn more about how autistics perceive, feel, and think. You can see what resonates with you and what does not.
Some recommended books include: “Divergent Mind” and “What I Mean When I Say I’m Autistic.”
What’s most important is that you self-educate in the way that is most comfortable for you. I personally love reading books, so that’s how I chose to self-educate. There are also thousands of great articles. Medium is a great place to start and you can follow autistics who write about autism, such as the Autist, Jean Grey, and more. I also write regularly about autism and have the following articles that are a good place to start for foundational understanding about autism:
2. Listen to late identified autistics’ experiences
You can connect with other autistics who learned they were autistic as adults. This can be done through social media. Since I do not use social media (other than Linked In for professional purposes), I chose to create an interview series of late-identified autistics. You can read over 25 interviews where late identified autistics share how they learned they were autistic and what resources helped them. Many of them also share their emails at the end if you would like to personally reach out to them.
3. Explore other autistic content
Autistics are a pretty incredible, creative group of people. There are many autistic podcasts, such as Autism Stories. There are also YouTube talk shows. My autistic friend and I started a YouTube talk show about autistic topics called Autistics Unscripted.
4. Experiment with autistic quizzes and assessments
There are many autistic quizzes and self-assessments that can help you get a better understanding of yourself. You can start with an Aspie Assessment and a quiz about masking, and then try other recommended quizzes from those websites. I do not suggest that someone rely on these solely because quizzes can be unclear or difficult to answer after a lifetime of masking.
Many people want one test or a simple list of autism traits that they can review to determine if they are autistic. No such test or list exists for self-identification. This essay explains why: 4 Reasons Why Autism Symptoms Lists are Confusing
5. Dig into key topics
Once you have a foundational understanding of autism, it can be helpful to learn about the key areas of autism. I break them down into six categories: sensory, body, emotions, learning/thoughts, passions, and socialization. It is helpful to understand how autism characteristics manifest in these areas. I offer the following essays on these topics:
It is often confusing to understand one’s autistic identity due to a lifetime of masking, thus learning more about masking and camouflaging is extremely helpful. Many autistics wonder, “Who am I beneath the masking?” I recommend the book “Unmasking Autism.” I’ve also written the following articles:
How Unidentified Autistics are Taught to Socially Camouflage and Mask
It is also beneficial to learn how autism presents differently in those who are late identified. It can often be difficult to know what is autism, and what is something else. Here are some essays on those subjects:
The Gap Between “Diagnosable Autism” and a Lifetime of Unidentified Autism
I Stopped Seeing Myself As Broken When I learned I was Autistic
When the Past Makes Sense after a Late-Identification of Autism
Make sure you’re also reading about the positives of autism. There is so much negative information out there about autism and it can get quickly depressing. There is also a lot of internalized shame attached to being "different." Learning you are autistic can be a chance to see yourself and your differences with new eyes. Here are some essays to get you started:
How Neurodivergent Acceptance Can Improve Our Lived Experiences
6. Develop strategies to work with your autistics mind
One of the best parts about learning you are autistic is that you can accept yourself as you are, let go of ineffective and unhelpful advice, and do what works best for you. You can test over time what works best for you. Here are some essays to give you ideas:
6 Strategies to Harness the Hyperfocus Power of an Autistic Mind
Leave the Gremlin In the Cave: Self-Isolation as a Necessary Autistic Tool
7. Work with an autistic therapist or autistic coach
It can be confusing to navigate the barrage of information available about autism. Sometimes you need a knowledgeable individual with personal and professional experience to develop a full understanding of your autistic self. I worked with an autistic coach shortly after learning I was autistic. I also now provide therapy for people who are questioning if they are autistic or are newly identified. I wrote an essay explaining how therapy can help here: 8 Ways Therapy Can Help With Late Identified Autism, How I Work with Newly Identified Autistic People, and 12 Ways Therapy Can Enhance Life for Late Identified Autistic Adults. Before this paragraph sounds too much like self-promotion, I want to be clear that I am advocating you work with someone who is a good match for you.
Here are some articles for finding and screening therapists:
What to Ask When You're Seeking Therapy for Late-Identified Autism
8. Give it Time
One of the hallmark traits of autism is needing TIME to process new information. It will take time for you to gather information in the way that works best for you, think about it, process it, and integrate it into your life. I found it frustrating how difficult it was to find clear, helpful information about autism in adults. It took many months of slowly gathering more and more information
With time and consistent self-education, you can come to a self-identification that feels valid and grounded for you.
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.