I Was Told I Was Gifted but No One Could Explain My Eccentricities: Late-Identified Autism Interview
This is the 34th interview in my series Interviewing Late-Identified Autistics. Lorie is a late-identified autistic. My questions are in bold and Lorie’s responses follow in regular typeface.
What name do you use and, if you want to share it, what pronouns do you use?
How old were you when you learned you were autistic?
I was in my 30s.
How did you learn you are autistic?
I am a therapist and I knew I was different in many ways from others, but I could not find validation for this. I was told I was “gifted,” but no one could explain my eccentricities and odd ways of thinking “out of the box.” It was not until my children were diagnosed that I fully accepted that I was autistic. I now provide individual therapy as well as run groups for late-diagnosed adults.
How did you decide whether to self-identify or diagnose?
Self-identification came naturally through awareness and education. I asked other peers in the field if they agreed and they did.
How did you feel when you learned you were autistic?
I felt relieved, like many others that have been diagnosed. Everything finally started making sense, from my ability to hear and smell things that no one around me seemed to be able to hear and smell to the complexities of my dreams, thoughts and ideas.
How do any of your identities (ex. gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc.) impact your late identification as autistic?
I’m not sure that any of my identities were impacted in any way. I believe the fact that I could mask well and that I was successful in certain areas made it so that professionals did not deem me autistic. No one saw my experiences as autistic experiences, even though I brought them up many times. I was told that I was just unique, gifted, etc., but I knew my inner world was weird at the very least (LOL).
How did your friends and family respond when you told them you are autistic?
Due to our family dynamic, I have only told my children and sister. They are all supportive and affirming. My children are autistic and another family member has neurodivergent children as well.
Did you seek out therapy, coaching, or other forms of structured support for autism?
No, but I offer it now. The groups I lead also benefit and validate me as well. They are a mutually beneficial experience.
How has learning you are autistic impacted your life?
I have learned self-forgiveness, acceptance, how to own my behavior, how to laugh at myself more, and how to self-advocate.
Your Current Life
How have you modified or adapted your life since learning you’re autistic?
I allow myself to be autistic and do not exhaust myself by masking all of the time. I think people are amused most of the time when I say or do something odd. This used to perplex me, but now I don’t really care.
In what ways does being autistic enhance your life?
I am now embracing and validating my skills and not focusing on my weaknesses.
What are some of the challenges you face in being autistic?
Dating relationships have always been a challenge. I was married twice, but my autism got in the way. I don’t forget anything, and that’s annoying. I like to find the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and that’s annoying. I pick up on the slightest changes in tone, behavior, and the patterns of others and that’s annoying, and so on. I have tons of friends, thank goodness (I think not being able to make friends is just another misconception about autistic people). My friends don’t have to live with me every day so I think that is why I feel better accepted by them than by my romantic partners.
In what ways have you noticed you’re different from neurotypical people (behavior, preferences, communication styles, etc.)?
I notice everything around me and can typically recall almost anything if I am paying attention.
Some social “rules” seem silly and unnecessary to me. I do not think people in authority are any more special, smarter, or better than anyone else, so I usually speak to everyone as equals. I did this even as a child with teachers, my parents’ friends, etc. This stood out negatively, I’m sure.
I don’t mind if someone does not like me. I’ve noticed my neurotypical friends become upset about that. I’m very kind and compassionate, but if someone doesn’t like me, I honestly don’t care.
I think I experience things on a much higher and more intense level than others around me, whether it be observing art, hearing music I like, eating food, or experiencing touch/intimacy, etc. The way I process information differently is wayyyyyyy too long of a conversation.
I’m sometimes overly flirtatious and don’t realize it or understand why it is misunderstood.
I tend to “act out my feelings” (another autistic quality) by clapping when excited or gesticulating excessively.
When I’m talking, I tend to lose people in the conversation.
I become tired more easily than others. I seem to hit a wall, and then I’m DONE (LOL).
Do you experience any other mental or physical differences (including disabilities, other neurodiversities, etc.) that impact you? How have these influenced your autistic journey?
I am a type-1 diabetic. I’m thankful I understand the complexities of the disease. I’m not sure if that plays into my “giftedness” or not. I also have ADHD.
If you work, what do you do for work? How does your autistic identity impact your work?
I have a private practice as an adult/late teen therapist and have been a counselor for approximately 28 years in different capacities. Autism helps me track and remember details of people’s stories and pull them back together as a therapeutic “whole.” I also have the ability to hold conversations about a wide variety of topics with my clients.
Possible negative impacts include having such rigidity in structure at work. Concerning co-workers, even if we all get along, I find that I am always the rigid rule follower and business manager (I run a tight ship and that can be annoying).
Is there anyone else in your family who is neurodiverse, autistic, or otherwise?
Yes, but some do not identify as such.
What helps you prevent or cope with moments of overwhelm?
I cope with moments of overwhelm by sleeping, staring, using pillows to block things out, or employing distractions such as playing games on my phone. I will also leave the situation that is overwhelming whenever possible.
What skills or strategies have helped you to work with your autistic mind?
I try to communicate explicitly so as not to be misunderstood.
What accessibility/support have you sought since learning you’re autistic? What support do you wish was easier to access?
b.) Not for myself because I luckily own my practice, but taking a break when needed, being allowed to walk away and come back to work when feeling better, would be a good support for others.
How have you self-advocated for your needs?
Because I am a mom, I have to remind my children that I struggle too at times.
How does your autistic identity impact your friendships?
Although I can’t give specifics, I’m sure my direct nature has played a part in impacting my friendships at times. Because I am very close with my friends, they will jokingly point this out when needed.
How does your autistic identity impact your romantic relationships?
I’ve not told everyone that I have dated and I’ve not dated anyone seriously enough lately to “go there.” The last person I told was also likely on the spectrum and it went fine.
What is your experience with medical systems? Are there ways you feel they can be improved for autistic individuals?
Autism is often misunderstood in medical systems. It is surprising how many medical professionals in the mental health field are not trained to recognize more subtle presentations of ASD. They need to become more educated about it.
How did being an undiagnosed autistic child impact your childhood?
My early childhood was not affected too badly because I was able to mask. In high school, things became worse. People thought I was “snobby,” but I was simply shy and anxious. Although I had many friends, girls were mean to me or bullied me because I didn’t understand certain social rules. For example, I was told that if you date someone’s ex-boyfriend, that someone might not like you. I remember thinking, “Why? That’s silly. They broke up.” I also didn’t understand why dating a lot might lead to a bad reputation. My reply was always the same, “That’s silly.”
In college, things were even harder. Previously, I had known everyone in school from kindergarten to the 12th grade. New people in college were very hard to deal with and they often did not try to understand me well. In my sorority, my unconventional ways got me into trouble at times and I was often misunderstood and judged. To this day I wish I could speak to that entire group of people to explain how the judgments they made were hurtful.
In what ways did you camouflage or mask?
I tried the “popular route” by wearing the “right” clothes and the “right” make-up in order to mask. The shallowness of it all resulted in loneliness due to my inability to authentically and deeply connect. I did finally connect with one friend though and later made healthier choices regarding my friendships.
Boys probably took advantage of me at times, but I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. I assumed people were being authentic and honest. This can still get me into sticky situations because I feel an interest in just about anyone I meet.
How has your identification as autistic changed how you view your childhood or earlier periods of adulthood?
I now forgive myself for taking the road less traveled. I look back and am glad I made the decisions I did, even when people thought I was making “bad” decisions. They weren’t “bad,” they were just “mine.”
How did being an undiagnosed autistic impact romantic relationships?
Being hyper-aware, socially unique, and lacking the ability to just “let things go” have impacted my romantic relationships.
Talking to Others About Autism
How do you describe autism to people who are not familiar with it?
I describe autism by saying that there is simply a difference in information processing and that there is usually a social component that can cause communication to be more challenging. For clients, of course, I go into greater detail.
What do you wish others knew about autism?
I would want people to know that they might be highly underestimating individuals with autism.
What is your advice for someone who thinks they might be autistic?
Please read or speak with a knowledgeable professional to help determine the best way to move forward if you think you might be autistic.
Are you involved in any forms of autistic activism?
Yes, I lead statewide initiative group therapy and education for adults.
Connecting with You
If someone would like to connect with you, how can they reach you?
I can be contacted by email at email@example.com
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.