Where to Start When You First Learn You’re Autistic
Finding out you’re autistic as an adult is a very disorienting experience.
When I found out, I thought my therapist was wrong. I thought there was no way I could be autistic. I went down a rabbit hole of research… and decided, Wow, I think I am autistic.
While that self-identification released me from a lifetime of feeling broken, it wasn’t clear where to go next. There is so much conflicting, opaque information about autism.
I fell down another rabbit hole of research… this time trying to fully understand autism. I wanted to know how I could work with my autistic brain. I wanted to know what I needed to accept about myself and what I could change.
There was no clear map. I couldn’t even find an autistic therapist to help me (while there are plenty of autistic coaches… a licensed therapist is far harder to find).
I began making my own map, through a conglomeration of reading articles and books, working with an autistic coach, pulling from my therapist background, meeting with other autistics, and attending continuing education classes in autism.
I am now the therapist I wish I could have found. I help newly identified autistics understand how autism uniquely presents for them, how to work with their autistic brain, and much more.
There’s no way I can provide therapy to every newly identified autistic out there, so I write essays like this one, trying to provide clear information to those who just found out they’re autistic.
If that’s you, here’s where I would recommend as you begin on your autistic journey.
Research all you want
You’ll likely fall off the planet for a while, learning everything you can about autism. That is ok. That is what your brain needs to find some peace and clarity. Let yourself deep dive. Deep dive in the ways that suit your autistic mind the best. If you love audio books, stock on up. If you prefer to read, check out some great articles on Medium. There is lots available. Don’t know where to start in your research? I’ve put together over 20 interviews with late identified autistics about their experiences of learning they were autistic. This is a great place to start. Plus, they recommend resources that helped them.
Accept your enhanced sensory perception
Now that you know you’re autistic, you can stop fighting the ways you’re “more sensitive” than others. Your five senses are more enhanced than neurotypicals and this is not going to change. No amount of exposure therapy is going to make it better. This is one area of your life where you can learn to embrace your differences. This can mean giving yourself permission to wear noise canceling headphones or not sit in noisy restaurants. It can also mean using your senses to enhance your life, such as letting yourself stim.
Recognize when you are overwhelmed
Before you knew you were autistic, you may have just powered through when you felt overwhelmed. While this strategy may have worked in the long run, it will lead to autistic burnout, more ups and downs, and more difficulty regulating your thoughts and emotions in the long run. Now is the time to begin recognizing when you are overwhelmed and taking time to recover. This usually looks like removing yourself from environments and going somewhere where there is little sensory input. For example, some people go home and take a nap. I like to sit and do art. If I’m especially overwhelmed, I might take a bath.
Notice your energy.
As autistic individuals, our energetic capacities are different than neurotypicals. While we will have bursts of energy, we often get tired faster due to the massive amount of information entering our brains throughout the day. Now is the time to start noticing your energy cycle. The more you can work with your natural flows of energy, the better. For example, I have the most energy in the morning. I like to leave my mornings for creative time. I then meet with clients in the afternoon. I leave my evenings unscheduled because I am usually energetically very tired. I’m not saying you will be able to make your ideal schedule right away. However, now is the time to start noticing what kind of schedule would benefit you the most.
Shift mentally to acceptance and working with what exists
Before I knew I was autistic, I worked so hard to change many aspects of my brain. I wanted to have less emotions and less thoughts. Learning I was autistic was freeing because it gave me permission to stop trying to change these things. I accepted that my brain will likely always have more feelings and thoughts than neurotypical people. Now, I focus on how to work with what exists. For example, when I have many emotions at once, I’m not hard on myself for crying. I let myself have an emotional cycle and then take the time to process afterward. I don’t beat myself up for being upset over something so little. Instead, I seek to understand how that “little” thing led to cascading thoughts that overwhelmed me. We are all unique people, so this will look different for everyone. You can explore this more by journaling the following prompt, “If this didn’t change about me, I could work with it by…”
Know you will have a lot of emotions/thoughts RIGHT NOW
Learning you are autistic will bring up A LOT. This is normal, and quite inevitable considering how life-changing it is. Do whatever you can to provide space for these emotions and thoughts. That could mean journaling or art or talking with friends. You will need extra time and care. Your body will also need extra care - extra rest. For some, that may also look like needing to move your body more to move the extra energy through.
There are many, many more ways you will continue to expand as you fully awaken to your autistic journey. You can do this naturally with time, or if you crave a more direct approach, you can seek out an autistic coach or therapist.
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.