Late-Identified Autism Interview: My Whole Life Began to Make Sense
This is my 5th interview in my series Interviewing Late-Identified Autistic Folx. Baxter is a late-identified autistic. My questions are in bold and Baxter's responses follow in regular typeface.
How old were you when you learned you were autistic?
In my 60th year
How did you learn you are autistic?
The path to enlightenment began with a book thrust into my hands by a junior colleague. I was instructed to read the book and report back. That was twelve or so years ago and the book was "Look me in the Eye" by John Elder Robison. It was as if I was reading my own autobiography. Yet; looking back, this was to be a superficial insight. The reality is deeply complex. It would not be until 2021, reading Medium articles and listed references that I would finally awaken.
How did you decide whether to self-identify or diagnose?
I had an appointment with my medical practitioner for an unrelated thing. I told him of my discovery. He was not too surprised. I'd worked with my GP in the Emergency Department for quite a number of years prior to him becoming my GP. We discussed a formal diagnosis, the pros and cons, that he would support a formal diagnosis but in the end both he and I felt it would actually be deleterious to have a formalised label.
How did you feel when you learned you were autistic?
At first I was ecstatic. . . The more I read, the more I saw myself, my struggles, my inner workings, my kinship to others of like-neurotype. My whole life began to make sense.
Subsequently this euphoria was shattered with the realisation that, against the backdrop of neurotypicality, I was a deficiency and my confidence built over the years by masking was crushed. I now saw myself through the lens of neurotypicality and questioned everything including my right to exist as my true self.
What is your gender? How do you feel this impacted your journey as an autistic individual?
Male - though my entire life I have preferred and identified with the "feminine" archetype.
How did any other of your identities (ex. race, religion, sexuality, etc.) impact your late identification as autistic?
I believe that religion impacted my life as an autistic greatly. Even at an early age I could not parse the disconnect between logic and religious dogma. I was raised in a fundamentalist protestant environment. I was often conflicted with what I was taught, what I saw practiced and what I intrinsically felt was ethical.
How did your friends and family respond when you told them you are autistic?
My partner was distressed. This was not what she had expected or signed up for. This is a period of adjustment for both of us. My parents initially couldn't see it but I think, with thought and research, they now see this as fact.
Did you seek out therapy, coaching, or other forms of structured support for autism?
I did seek therapy with a psychologist specialising in autism but the wait-time was so long I ended up doing some sessions with another therapist who has fortunately been a good fit.
How has learning you are autistic impacted your life?
This is massive. Perhaps many books worth. . . The greatest impact has been that I actually understand myself, the extreme impact of sensory overload, my disconnect from the "loud" world over the years, my longing for solitude, my great affection for music and reading.
How have you modified or adapted your life since learning you’re autistic?
I was so effectively taught to mask by my parents, particularly my father, that it would be almost impossible at this time to modify my life to one that would be conducive to authentic autistism.
In what ways does being autistic enhance your life?
I notice (subconsciously) patterns. I see things most neurotypical people don't see. This means that I can see anomalies in patient records, what is real and what is artefact in images and so on. It also means I frame my photography in a manner that the neurotypical would not normally observe but when shown it are awed.
I have exceptional hearing which is a double edge sword. It is wonderful for discerning pitch in music, recorded music quality and music reproduction quality in audio equipment.
What are some topics or activities you’re passionate about?
I have been passionate about music my entire life. I have attempted to learn instruments but the disconnect between brain and body is such that I cannot integrate to the point where music can flow in a practical way. I developed a great interest in recorded music and recorded music reproduction. Design and photography have become great passions as life progresses. I have been a passionate reader from a young age.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My typical day is a nightmare of masking, frustration and sensory overwhelm.
If you work, what do you do for work?
I am a medical diagnostic radiographer.
Is there anyone else in your family who is autistic?
My daughter was diagnosed last year and I suspect my son may also be. I have thought a lot about who in my ancestral line might also be autistic but have not identified anyone as yet.
What are some of the challenges you face in being autistic?
My greatest challenge is sensory overload. Bright light, heat, mechanical noise, shopping malls, parties, foul odours, multiple people speaking at once, dissonant music, electrical hum, tinny sound reproduction, loud ringtones on phones, speakerphone, sharp noises, sharp light changes all distress me greatly.
What helps you prevent or cope with moments of overwhelm?
Over the years, even before I knew I was autistic, I found solace with music and headphones. The world's greatest invention for me was the iPod and noise limiting headphones.
What skills or strategies have helped you to work with your autistic mind?
I am still trying to find strategies. . . I'm often at a loss to balance what I need with being thoughtful of those around me.
What is your experience with medical systems? Are there ways you feel they can be improved for autistic individuals?
I work in the medical system. It is like education. . . it depends on the practitioner you stumble across like it depends on what educator you are assigned. By and large autism awareness is in primal infancy.
How did being an undiagnosed autistic child impact your childhood?
My childhood was a nightmare. I did of course have fun and enjoyment and my parents provided a stable loving home. This did not mitigate the horrors of being autistic in a world that basically knew nothing of autism and, if it did, treated it as a source of offence and discrimination.
What ways did you camouflage or mask?
My parents strictly taught me the ways of the world. I was, to all intents and purposes, to the eyes of the world, neurotypical. All stims and autistic aspects of my existence were trained out of me.
How has your identification as autistic changed how you view your childhood or earlier periods of adulthood?
I now understand my childhood and can view it with a compassionate lens. I can also view my parents' need to "train out" my autism with great compassion. No one knew. . . In a strange irony, being trained out of autistic patterns, I was able to go to university and hold down permanent employment.
How do you describe autism to people who are not familiar with it?
As yet I don't have the language for this. I find many articles on Medium to be articulate.
What do you wish others knew about autism?
I wish that there would be awareness, acceptance, empowerment - everything all minority cultures desire.
What is your advice for someone who thinks they might be autistic?
Read as much as possible. There are many articulate autistic writers.
Are there any resources (books, articles, videos, etc.) you would recommend for people who just learned they’re autistic?
I have found that Medium is a fantastic resource from which to launch into research.
Are there any autistic characters in books, tv, or movies that accurately reflect autism? Which ones?
I cannot think of any offhand that would typically or accurately portray the autistic experience.
Do you have any works, websites, or other creative ventures you would like to share with others? (please provide links)
See images for a glimpse.
Thank you for reading. I am looking for more late-identified autistic folx to be interviewed for this series. If you would be willing, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org