Musings, Neurodiversity

Why I Chose to Get Assessed for Autism at 30.

Before my first appointment with the clinical psychotherapist who assessed me, I knew I was autistic.

As I talked about in a previous blog post, the education, mental health, and health care systems did not identify me as autistic; I discovered it on my own at age 30, like so many other women whose neurodiverse traits don’t match the stereotypical male presentations.

So if I knew I was autistic, why did I bother to go through all the stress, expense, and time to get an official assessment of Autism Spectrum Disorder in a pdf? (Especially now that I’m 30 and ancient of days?)

Great question.

1. Things weren’t going so great.

There’s a mentality among some that if I’ve made it this far in life without an official recognition of my neurodiversity, that everything must be fine. This is far from the truth.

Yes, I was an “A” student. Yes, I graduated from a master’s program with a 4.0 GPA. Yes, I am employed.

But my life post-structured school environment was at loose ends. The world around me seemed to be getting more and more intrusive as I felt more and more sensitive to all sensory input (the seams of my clothes, ambient noises, foods, interruptions, smells). I had several part-time jobs, but couldn’t afford rent on my own. I had trouble keeping all but a small handful of friends. I was anxious. Periods of depression were coming more often and lasting longer. I wasn’t happy. Everything felt harder for me than it seemed to feel for my peers. I had started to feel disabled.

When I found out about how autism looks in women, I knew I had a potential answer. And I knew I needed help with that answer and all its implications.

If things aren’t going great, it’s always a good idea to seek help. Partly because I’m autistic, though, I prefer to do things on my own, including research. I wanted to go in to a professional for help, with a strong, clear idea of why I needed help.

2. Self validation.

I needed to prove to myself that my assessment of myself was accurate. Self doubt and the need for external validation is a problem for me, probably from years of anxiously and unsuccessfully navigating social and health care systems. I am also extremely empathetic, and it can be difficult for me to tell whether emotions or experiences I’m learning about are mine, or if I’m taking on the emotions and experiences of others. I’m also a bit of a hypochondriac. I was 90% sure I was autistic, but I needed an official’s opinion for the last 10%.

This might not be necessary for everyone. If you’re super confident in your own understanding of yourself, all the better for you! I am more than a little jealous of your self-confidence.

3. Social validation.

I wanted backup if family and friends didn’t believe me. I was very afraid of telling people about my discoveries and hearing, “You don’t seem autistic,” or, “You can’t be autistic because of X.”

Those closest to us can hold a lot of power over us. The denial of autism is a knee-jerk reaction, I think in part because of internalized ableism and the ways autism has been wrongfully stigmatized. But it’s a lot harder for those closest to us to try to explain away our experiences if we have a third party (who also happens to be a licensed professional) backing us up.

4. Recognition and respect from the mental health field.

My experience with the medical and mental health care fields is that, unless there’s an actual, scientific diagnosis, my descriptions of my situation tend to be mislabeled as anxiety and dismissed. A doctor, counselor, or therapist would respect the official documentation of my assessment far more readily than my claim to be autistic without any “proof.” Having a third-party recognition of autism, ADHD, etc., will also help to make the most of future therapist-client interactions.

5. Accommodations.

Just because I’m out of school with no plans to go back (if I EVER write about wanting to get a Ph.D. or another master’s, STOP ME) doesn’t mean there’s no reason to seek assessment. Telling an employer that I need to be accommodated because I think I’m autistic carries less (or maybe no) legal weight than if I have an official stamp from a clinical psychologist.

Neurodiversities can and should be welcomed in school and the work place. That means that individual needs should be met wherever possible so that we can thrive alongside our more neurotypical peers. Advocating for yourself will likely go better overall if an official assessment shows neurodiversity.

6. Bonus knowledge.

My assessment revealed that I also met criteria for Inattentive ADHD. This was a total surprise. I never would have found this out or suspected this on my own–or at least, it would have taken me a while longer. The ways my autistic traits interact with my ADHD traits is a whole thing, and probably, a whole different blog post…

Assessment may reveal things about yourself that you had no idea about, things you weren’t necessarily looking for, but which could help in day-to-day functioning and in deepening self-knowledge.

But in the end…

All of this refers to me and my experience. It is not a recommendation or a suggestion. If you’re on the fence about assessment, there are definitely pros and cons, and you should absolutely do your own research and make the decision that’s best for you. I was lucky enough to have the time to invest, the money to afford it, and connection with an assessor who was aware of the most recent research emerging on women on the spectrum, and, who was kind. Not everyone is so lucky.

This whole journey can be completely overwhelming, and I wish I’d had someone to talk to about it. So, even if we’re total strangers, I am 100% available to listen or to talk you through any part of it. Feel free to reach out to me, either in the comments or by message, even if you’re reading this five years after it’s posted!

The most important takeaway of this entire post is:

Do what you need to do to live the happiest, most fulfilled life possible.

6 thoughts on “Why I Chose to Get Assessed for Autism at 30.”

  1. I am 23 and currently trying to get an autism assessment – I think I feel the same in that I want some validation and just to kind of feel comforted that there’s a reason I’ve always felt a bit out of place? I think because I’ve made it so far without a diagnosis, I’m slightly worried that I’m seeking one unnecessarily, but your post helped me to put into words why it’s important to me, so thank you for sharing 🙂

    If you don’t mind me asking, what was the actual assessment like? I have no idea what to expect.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for reading!

      I’m so excited for you!! For me, getting assessed was almost like a curtain went up that had been separating me from myself, and I understood myself fully for like maybe the first time ever. I hope you get solid answers. Feeling out of place wears on a person… ❤

      I think assessment procedures vary depending on where in the world you live. I'm in the USA, and in the midwest specifically. I had to do an hour-long intake meeting (virtual, thanks COVID), in which I basically spilled my guts about why I thought I was autistic. At the end of that meeting, the professional agreed with me that there was cause for testing. (I suppose if, at that time, she thought there wasn't cause, she would have said so, and I wouldn't have gone ahead into testing with her.) Then the actual testing was scheduled. I only worked with a single assessor (same person who did my intake too), so it was just her and I in a room together. She talked me through a series of what felt like cognitive/intelligence tests, like 3.75 hours' worth (brain = fried). Some of them felt memory based, some was pattern recognition, some was language based. She had me do some written self assessments, and there were one or two on a computer as well. Some of the pattern recognition stuff involved spatial reasoning (which I'm TERRIBLE at) and physical manipulatives, which were kind of fun, tbh! Then I waited 2 weeks for another virtual appointment to hear her assessment, and that's when she told me I was autistic and inattentive ADHD.

      I've heard wildly different assessment stories from England, for example, in which the person getting assessed is asked to make up a story based on a picture book without words. I didn't do anything like that.

      So yeah. Could be like that for you; could be totally different! HA! XD

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh wow, thanks so much for spending the time to explain – it sounds like a very draining process! I missed the call from my doctor twice who said in the voicemail he’d call the next day but didn’t and i was like… is this part of the test?! But have got a hold of him again so hopefully the assessment should be happening soon – I’m in England, so will let you know what it’s like!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. LOL… When part of the thing you’re trying to get assessed for has to do with social interaction, suddenly everything could be part of the test…. XD

        OOOOh, yes! I’d love to know what the process is like for you over there. Based on my research, I honestly think that England and Australia in particular are ahead of the US on recognizing autism in females… Do update me on the process!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing your story. I was recently diagnosed with ADHD (aged 42). I’m still not quite sure if it’s given me any of the answers I was looking for. But it does make things make a little more sense. And it helps me be a little kinder to myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad it’s helped, even if it’s only a little. It can be so, so exhausting and confusing, slogging through a life that seems like it should be easier than it feels. I’m working on setting expectations for myself that fit my abilities and my strengths, not those of the NT society around me. I hope you continue in your self knowledge to power and self love!!! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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