This is the 37th interview in my series Interviewing Late-Identified Autistics. Kara is a late-identified autistic. My questions are in bold and Kara’s responses follow in regular typeface.
What name do you use and, if you want to share it, what pronouns do you use?
Kara Olson, she/her/hers
How old were you when you learned you were autistic?
31 years old
How did you feel when you learned you were autistic?
Learning I was autistic was an emotional roller coaster. At first, I felt relieved and excited. All of my struggles finally made sense. After the initial relief, I felt some grief around not knowing sooner and the pain that late identification has caused me. I am now moving towards joy and acceptance, as this discovery has allowed me to identify my needs and start to meet them, build compassion for myself, and find community.
How do any of your identities (ex. gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc.) impact your late identification as autistic?
I think being a woman has greatly impacted my late identification as autistic. I believe that one of the reasons I became so high-masking was in order to avoid social reprimanding for autistic traits that men are not as often criticized for, such as having a monotone voice, speaking bluntly, and having a flat affect.
Your Current Life
How have you modified or adapted your life since learning you’re autistic?
I am now much more aware of my sensory sensitivities and use tools to accommodate them. I am working towards building a career path that will be able to accommodate my sensory needs and my need for greater alone time. I am giving myself more grace for not being able to meet as many daily demands as others can.
In what ways does being autistic enhance your life?
I think that being autistic has enhanced my creativity and appreciation for beauty. I feel a lot of joy when being in the presence of beauty including nature, art, and music. I appreciate my ability to recognize patterns and I love the way my mind thinks.
What are some of the challenges you face in being autistic?
I have found it difficult to balance my desire for social connection with my needs as an autistic person. At times, I also find it difficult to meet social demands. Sometimes this leads to isolation. Anxiety and stress can also be hard to manage in a stimulating and demanding world. This has caused sleep issues since I was a teen.
If you work, what do you do for work? How does your autistic identity impact
I am finishing up grad school and will soon be an art therapist in New Mexico as well as a coach for late-dx autistics worldwide. I think that my autistic traits are an asset as a therapist in many ways including being highly empathetic, great at mirroring, noticing patterns, and appreciating deep conversations rather than small talk. In the past, I have really struggled to perform well in many work environments. The social expectations and sensory stimulation were overwhelming and caused my mental health to decline. I feel grateful that I am now entering a career that will allow me to accommodate my work environment needs while also finding fulfillment in working with others.
How has your identification as autistic changed how you view your childhood or earlier periods of adulthood?
I want to give my younger self a big hug. I now see that she was coping in the best ways she knew how.
Talking to Others About Autism
What do you wish others knew about autism?
It does not look a certain way. It is not something to be feared. Autistic people have both strengths and challenges. Autistic people desire to be understood and connect with others deeply. Every autistic person is unique. There is a saying, “When you meet one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.”
What is your advice for someone who thinks they might be autistic?
Explore this with compassion and curiosity. Talk it over with a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional. Find autistic communities online to seek guidance or validation. Your internal experience matters and if you connect with the autistic identity, there is probably a reason why.
Are there any resources (books, articles, videos, etc.) you would recommend for people who just learned they’re autistic?
I would recommend “Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity” by Devon Price PhD.
Are there any autistic characters in books, tv, or movies that accurately reflect autism? Which ones?
Although it is never explicitly stated that this character is autistic, Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit gives a great portrayal of how autism can look in a woman. As a child, her monotone voice and lack of affect are highly noticeable. Her special interest is chess. As an adult, she is blunt, her friendships revolve around chess, she masks with fashion and beauty, and she uses alcohol and drugs to cope. I find this portrayal more realistic than some of the stereotypical autistic characters presented in the media.
Connecting with You
If someone would like to connect with you, how can they reach you?
You can connect with me on my Instagram: @autism.art.therapist or email: email@example.com
Do you have any works, websites, or other creative ventures you would like to share with others?
I will be offering art-guided coaching sessions for late-dx autistics starting this May 2023 (website coming soon)! If you are interested, check out my Instagram or email me for more information.
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.