Processing and Understanding Emotions Through the Written Word: Late-Identified Autism Interview
This is the 39th interview in my series Interviewing Late-Identified Autistics. Jamie is a late-identified autistic. My questions are in bold and Jamie’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?
How did you decide whether to self-identify or diagnose?
A family member of mine was identified as autistic, and as I began to learn more about autism, I started to feel like I met the criteria. Unfortunately, I was an adult, and it was difficult to get an adult diagnosis.
For a while, I quietly self-identified. However, I had an intense need to know definitively. I never felt comfortable with self-diagnosis because I had this ‘what if I’m wrong’ thought going through my head all the time.
When I finally met a psychologist who understood autism in adults I asked him whether he would explore my suspicions with me and he offered me an evaluation.
How did you feel when you learned you were autistic?
Initially, I felt very relieved. I had spent a lifetime trying to figure out why so many things were so much harder for me. I had gone down so many paths to try to ‘overcome my deficits’. I had thought that if I just found the right book, teacher, guru, diet, therapist, or modality, I could fix myself. Being diagnosed as autistic helped me to understand that my needs were inherently different and that instead of trying to become someone I could never be, I could instead focus on getting to know myself and my needs. I could have compassion for myself instead of self-loathing, judgment, and shame.
Did you seek out therapy, coaching, or other forms of structured support for autism?
My first psychiatric appointment came when I was only 5 or 6 years old, and over the years I saw many psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors, but the usual talk therapy and CBT approaches never seemed to help.
Over the last couple of years, I have found some great support. I have worked with a counselor who has a lot of experience working with neurodivergent people and is neurodivergent herself. In part, she uses somatic therapy and the Safe and Sound Protocol, which have helped me with my nervous system regulation.
I have also had weekly sessions with a psychologist who specializes in working with autistic adolescents and adults. In our sessions, I have learned more about how autism impacts my life, and how to manage my comorbidities of anxiety, panic disorder, OCD, and ADHD.
These sessions have also been incredibly valuable in overcoming a lifetime of trauma. My psychologist uses a number of different modalities, including the Compassionate Inquiry psychotherapy approach. Finally being heard and understood by a psychologist has helped me build the trust that I needed to open up and address the trauma that had always kept me stuck in a state of fear.
Your Current Life
How have you modified or adapted your life since learning you’re autistic?
I have been much more aware of my needs, and have realized that I can’t just ‘push through’ as much as I would like to. I have a different outlook on my capacity. It’s not always going the be the same. If I need to take a rest, I don’t judge myself for it like I used to. If I can’t manage to go to an event, I allow myself to reschedule or decline.
I am also more aware of my sensory needs. For example, I wear headphones when I go shopping. I use a weighted blanket when I am stressed. I seek out sensory experiences that calm me or bring me joy, such as writing with my favorite pen or patting my silky dog.
In what ways does being autistic enhance your life?
Being autistic has enhanced my life by giving me a love of the written word. I was hyperlexic and began reading at three years old. Books were my first ‘friends’. As I became a young adult, I began to write poetry. I love that I don’t have to expend effort to write my poems and that they help me to process and understand my own emotions. And as I am beginning to share my poetry online, I am finding that they help other people understand themselves better, or to feel like they aren’t alone in their struggles.
Do you experience any other mental or physical differences (including disabilities, other neurodiversities, etc.) that impact you? How have these influenced your autistic journey?
My first label was ‘gifted’. The expectations of being labeled gifted weighed on me. I felt like a freak show when I was in preschool because I was asked to read for the class. I was terrified to make a mistake because I was the ‘genius’ kid that the whole school community seemed to know about. If I made a mistake, then I didn’t know what my identity would be. This fear of making mistakes led to a fear of failure and success, and kept me from trying new things for a long time.
My first mental health condition was diagnosed as separation anxiety (not sure if this was the official name, but it’s what my mother described to me) at age 5 or 6. Back then, people generally called me ‘painfully shy’ and a ‘perfectionist’.
After that, I had a number of other labels and medications. From the time I was a teenager, there were other diagnoses such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, illness anxiety disorder, and PTSD.
On top of everything I was diagnosed with, there were two conditions that were overlooked, autism and ADHD. I think that ADHD and autism combined to almost make each other invisible. My need to complete things and to be perfect, organized, and structured hid a lot of my ADHD tendencies, but once I had a business to run, two kids, a husband, and a household to manage all while hitting perimenopause, all my autistic strengths couldn’t keep up with the demands, and the ADHD became much more apparent and debilitating.
Is there anyone else in your family who is neurodiverse, autistic, or otherwise?
So many people in my family are neurodiverse. Some are diagnosed and others remain undiagnosed. Everyone has the right to decide what their own path to diagnosis and disclosure looks like.
Talking to Others About Autism
Are there any resources (books, articles, videos, etc.) you would recommend for people who are exploring if they might be autistic?
Resources on autism are always evolving. There is so much information out there and every person's experience is unique. I think something that often gets overlooked is the diagnostic criteria. It’s easy to relate to someone else’s experience or a particular trait and wonder if you’re autistic. The diagnostics are not perfect, but they can certainly help tease out what may just be some ‘traits’ versus meeting enough criteria for diagnosis. One resource that I found helpful was this screening tool from Washington State University which includes the guidelines and DSM-5 criteria along with examples.
Additionally, some of the online tests that I have used and discussed with my diagnosing psychologist were the AQ RAADS-R, EQ, and camouflaging rating scales can be found at https://aspietests.org/.
Connecting with You
If someone would like to connect with you, how can they reach you?
I can be reached at email@example.com
Do you have any works, websites, or other creative ventures you would like to share with others?
I began publishing a blog in February of 2022 to process my diagnosis at midlife that can be found at www.autismatmidlife.com.
I have my own website which includes many of my blog articles midlife autism and showcases my poetry at www.jamiehocking.com.
After a long hiatus from social media, I have also recently begun sharing on Instagram at www.instagram.com/jamiehockingpoetry/.
I have also just posted my first poetry video on YouTube@jamie.hocking.
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.