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Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 63
Gender: Male
Posts: 25,881
Location: Long Island, New York

10 Jun 2021, 7:27 am

I got diagnosed with autism at 28 years old, and the difficult process changed my life for the better

A few years ago, I was working as a reporter when I suddenly lost my voice.

I was preparing myself to approach random people to get quotes for my story but felt a wire inside of me snap. The packed venue, the people, the noise — suddenly my work seemed impossible.

Each time I tried to talk to someone, I found myself entirely unable to speak. The idea of someone even looking at me made my stomach twist.

Calling someone wasn't an option, so I hid in the corner and texted my closest contacts. I told them this was anxiety, even though that didn't seem to encompass what was happening to me.

My partner came to pick me up, and by the time we arrived home, I could talk again. But my energy felt zapped.

Looking back, I now recognize this entire experience as an example of an autistic shutdown.

When I look back on my childhood and teenage years, I mostly remember loneliness.

It was like everyone existed on the other side of a glass wall. I could see them, but I couldn't fully understand the life they experienced on their side of the wall. From where I stood, it seemed to be a little bit easier for them. They had their own challenges, I'm sure, but life seemed to make sense to them in a way it never had for me.

Small things, like homework, constantly overwhelmed me. I would feel debilitated with anxiety, and then when I completed the tasks without disaster, I'd feel silly for blowing it out of proportion.

As an adult, I faced similar issues with work.

While people from my graduating class successfully balanced intense reporting jobs, I landed a few contract and freelance positions at newspapers. I struggled with turning "on" for jobs. It was exhausting but I told myself this was just part of professionalism.

But these jobs only led to burnout. I neglected my health. I cried in office bathrooms.

Such burnouts had happened before, at other jobs and during my university undergrad. I thought my shutdowns were because I got stressed easily, and I hated myself for it. I kept pushing further.

But really, I felt so exhausted in these jobs because they required me to "mask" too much.

I always wondered, why did I have to be this way? Like many undiagnosed autistics, I simply thought I was broken.

Even with years of antidepressants and therapy, so much about life felt nonsensical and unmanageable to me. I had been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and body-dysmorphic disorder — but even that cocktail of mental illnesses didn't tell the whole story.

Much of the representation I had been exposed to boiled down to a specific brand of male calculus whizzes. The few autistic people I'd met weren't like me, so it never occurred to me that I could be autistic, too. (After all, I'm a woman who hates math.)

My perception shifted even further when I began to follow people online who were sharing their experiences with autism — Annie Segarra (Annie Elainey), Robin Roscigno, and Sarah Kurchak.

Since there are few resources for autistic adults in my region (and, as I understand it, in general) it took some time to find services that weren't targeted toward the parents of young children and teenagers. The clinic I contacted quoted me a cost of about $1,800 over three sessions.

When the time of the appointment finally arrived, I asked the psychologist to cut to the chase.

I'm making a diagnosis on the autism spectrum," she said. She then immediately rolled out comforting phrases, like, "This isn't a bad thing," and "Some of the best people I know are on the spectrum."

Apparently, she wasn't used to people reacting happily to this news.

As soon as I got back into my car, I let years of self-loathing pour out of me. Knowing I was autistic felt like when I realized I was queer — certain life experiences clicked and made much more sense.

My diagnosis made me feel more human than ever. It meant I wasn't an alien.

So many things that once caused me guilt or shame now stirred empathy for my younger self, wishing I could tell her she wasn't on a level playing field with those around her.

If I could speak to her now, I would tell her she doesn't have the right tools yet, but one day, she will. And it's going to make her so, so happy.

I am a sucker for these type of stories. While the people and circumstances are different the basic emotions are the same. These stories bring me right back to when I was diagnosed.

Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity.

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman