(Autism, late diagnosis, stereotypes, personal experience, popular culture... Follow the ) I spoke yesterday at a corporate event about my late diagnosis and felt inspired to share here a little bit of what I said. So...
I'd like to start by saying that getting a diagnosis is not easy, especially as an adult. If you reached adulthood without one, chances are you have "subtle signs" of autism, which are subsequently misdiagnosed as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and even borderline disorder.
If you are a woman, it will be even harder for you. I'm not exaggerating. Millions of women are being misdiagnosed as we speak, and we have a few things to blame, including popular culture and films like "Son-Rise: a Miracle of Love".
Of course, this is NOT the only reason. But those movies have added an extra layer of problems to an already complicated situation. They have created stereotypes.
Basically, people have two scenarios in mind: you can't be autistic if you're not a young boy bouncing in the corner with your dinosaur, with no friends at all and exhibiting a ""strange"" behavior. Or, you can't be autistic if you're not a genius. Remember Rain Man?
However, autism goes well beyond these assumptions, which is why it is called a spectrum (Autism Spectrum Disorder).
In our community, there is a well-known quote that says "if you know an autistic person, you know ONE autistic person." The fact that you've met an autistic person at some point in your life doesn't make you an autism expert.
You do have the young boy who finds it tremendously difficult to engage with others and make friends, and you do have the "geniuses". But you also have those who are literally unable to talk.
You have those (girls included!!) who are extremely clever and can do miracles when placed in front of a computer yet are unable to tie their shoes or to pick up the phone without having a panic attack. They are all autistic. PEOPLE are different.
Unfortunately, what happens most of the time is that professionals and the so-called experts also have those preconceptions and stereotypes in mind, and they are not prepared to look into the small details of what the person is saying and establish the link.
Of course, there are exceptions. There are many professionals that are open, knowledgeable, and understanding (shout out to my doctor). The big question is: where and how can we find them? This is exactly what happened to me.
My mother took me to the psychologist for the first time when I was 3, to investigate my (bizarre) anxiety. That was merely the beginning of a lengthy journey that would not stop until 2020, when I was diagnosed at the age of 26.
I saw maybe 6 other psychologists throughout the years, as well as a dozen different psychiatrists. They all had different explanations for my behavior and psychological issues, but none of them were correct. I was misdiagnosed several times.
(trigger warning) Worse still, I was offered a variety of medications that ended up making me feel worse. In fact, just a year or two before I met the doctor who would literally save my life by diagnosing me correctly, I was overwhelmed with suicidal thoughts... ... something that had never, ever crossed my mind before. And that wasn't because I wanted to die or to kill myself, but because the medication I was on, which wasn't the correct choice for my "problem," was the one who set off the trigger. It was a VERY scary experience.
I believe it is important to mention a few more characteristics that should have caught the attention of my doctors and psychologists at the time. I could read when I was 4. And no one ever taught me that. By the age of 5, I was already writing my own silly little book.
I've always LOVED to study, but only if I could do it alone. School was a living horror. I was so interested in history, while all of my classmates were discussing the newest episode of a Nickelodeon show. I felt like an alien. I didn't belong anywhere.
I didn't have the same interests as other folks my age. Teachers mocked me in front of everyone because I couldn't stand up from my chair and answer their questions. I was punched several times by little assholes.
As I grew older, I could speak different languages, including English, without making any effort or taking any lessons. I could literally spend hours writing excellent articles about anything. I would read three books at the same time.
I grew up feeling weird and maybe even stupid, all while hearing from everyone around me that I was a "genius." To sum it up, my life was hell when I needed to socialize, but I excelled at a lot of things when I was alone. Can you see the contradictions and the shitshow?
Looking back now, knowing what I know now, it was obvious. All signs were there. Finally, let me tell you: the diagnosis was a HUGE relief. When I found out I was autistic, everything clicked into place inside my head.
This is not about being "labeled". It's about having a chance to know who you really are, and why. That changes everything. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of recognition.
There's no cure for autism. You are born autistic, and you will die autistic. But it doesn't matter, because now I KNOW who I am. I can understand my struggles and be more respectful towards myself.
I can even explain WHY I CAN "SEE" BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOS IN COLOR! And you people following me here should know that I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to do what I do without my autism.
I was diagnosed as "twice exceptional," which refers to people who have a disability but also have a high level of intelligence and skills in a certain area of interest. In my case, I can visually process information in a totally different way.
That explains my attention to detail, my grasp of how colors work, and as I mentioned, my ability to "visualize" black and white photographs in color - something I use to determine which photos to work on since this “skill helps me to predict whether or not the photos will...
... look good in color. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
FINALLY (for real this time), please have this in mind: I fit into what people would call "a genius". But do I fit the stereotype? No. I'm a woman. I hate numbers. I basically can't do math. I don't play chess. Stereotypes are stereotypes. And people are more than that.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for being here. And here’s a cat playing the banjo. M x