Most medical and mental health professionals know very little about autism. As a result, they can be incredibly dismissive of late-identified autistics who do not exhibit the stereotypical external behaviors of autism.
Some might make comments like, “You can’t be autistic because you can maintain eye contact” or “You don’t have problems socializing.”
What they don’t know is that some autistic individuals can mask their characteristics. They can force themselves to make eye contact. They can learn social skills to fit in, even when they feel deeply uncomfortable. In essence, many autistics can fit in externally, even though they’re still experiencing all of the internal impacts.
Even professionals who believe that someone is a late-identified autistic can be dismissive and rude. For example, I told my audiologist prior to my hearing test that I am autistic and that the humming of the fluorescent lightbulb would impact my performance on the test. She told me, “The light won’t impact your hearing.” She didn’t question that I was autistic. She questioned my lived experience.
I was floored to know the audiologist was ignorant about autism and how it can impact a hearing test. It seems like that would be something a specialist would know.
When it comes to autism and medical professionals though, all bets are off.
Even my ENT specialist knew nothing about the impacts of autism on tinnitus. I even asked ahead of time to be placed with a doctor within the practice who knew about autism. He knew nothing about the correlation between autism and tinnitus. He immediately sent me to the audiologist, assuming something was wrong with my hearing (turns out I hear far better than the average human thanks to being autistic).
It is a rare joy to find a professional who is educated about autism and holds a neurodiverse lens. It’s so rare that I haven't had that experience yet.
However, I have had the experience of a medical professional believing me and accommodating my autistic requests. You can read about that in my essay The Standard of Care I Wish All Doctors Lived By.
Sadly, most autistics will have negative experiences with medical professions. I fully intend to change that with the essays I write, the talks I give, and the advocacy work I’m doing with the mental health profession. I also take faith in the hundreds of other neurodiverse people who I know are doing similar work.
However, I know the reality is that it will take time. In the meantime, it is helpful to be aware that this is the common lived experience for late-identified autistics.
Many times, my newly identified autistic clients are so excited about learning they are autistic. I also felt that way. It was like everything suddenly made sense.
It can then be a very jarring experience to start telling people and realizing not everyone will believe you. To then have dismissive experiences on top of it is even more demoralizing. It can cause an autistic person to wonder, “Am I wrong?”
No, you’re not wrong, our medical and mental health professionals are just woefully behind.
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.