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?)
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.
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: