Making Sense of the Past as a Late-Diagnosed Autistic Adult

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Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 66
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Location: Long Island, New York

23 Jul 2023, 11:32 am

Psychology Today
Katie Rose Guest Pryal, J.D., Ph.D., is a bipolar-autistic author, keynote speaker, law professor, and expert in mental health and neurodiversity.

When I was 42, I sought an autism diagnosis.

Like many adults who seek diagnoses, I was inspired to do so because I am a parent and my children were diagnosed with autism.

After my children were diagnosed, I looked at my kids, and then I looked in the mirror and realized that I had given birth to miniature versions of myself. I immediately made an appointment with our local autism center for testing.

I also suffered a lot as a child and young adult because I was deeply misunderstood: by my parents, teachers, and peers at school.

My parents didn’t have the advantage that I have as an autistic parent of autistic kids—my apples fell close to my tree. Theirs did not.

Instead, my parents were handed what must have seemed, to them, like a mysterious little creature who frequently baffled them. Like many neurotypical parents of autistic children, they did what they thought was best.

But I believe they did the best they could. My parents didn’t just wing it—they sought help from doctors. Unfortunately, the doctors weren’t much help. Back then, in the early 1980s, getting a girl diagnosed with autism was about as easy as walking to the moon. And it remains difficult today.

Look back at your young selves and celebrate them
Let us celebrate our childhood differences rather than scorn them.

For example, our young, autistic selves likely had intense interests in things. Let us celebrate these “hyper-fixations” (as autistic author Pete Wharmby calls them). They were wonderful, not a problem, even if adults around us told us that they were.

And today, if you still love those things, bring them back into your life if you can.

Celebrating our childhood differences can be hard to do because sometimes these differences caused us pain. We might remember that our awkwardness caused teasing and difficulty making friends.

The world made us feel as though we were made wrong. But we weren't.

That awkward child you once were deserves your love today. She didn’t make mistake after mistake for no reason. She had undiagnosed autism, and she likely had little help learning how to navigate complex social situations.

Furthermore, sometimes what seemed like mistakes in the past weren’t mistakes at all. Sometimes we were punished simply for being different.

Find a memory of yourself as a child during a moment of intense joy. Now, go join yourself in that celebration. You both deserve it.

Seek help for the harm you suffered as a child and adult.
Autistic kids, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed, frequently suffer traumatic events such as bullying and assault and their aftermath such as PTSD. If we were undiagnosed as kids, then it is even more likely that we suffered trauma—all the way through adulthood.

Today we might try to forget these traumatic events. We might try to reason that they weren’t that bad. That’s what I did for years. But carrying around the burden of these traumatic events harms us.

Now, in my mid-40s, I’ve started working through this trauma with a therapist. It has been life-changing.

Because of my autism diagnosis, I’ve learned that what I suffered wasn’t my fault. I was targeted because I was autistic. And, when I should have been taught how to protect myself, I was not.

But we can protect ourselves now, starting by addressing the lingering pain inside ourselves that stands in the way of mental peace and happiness.

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


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Joined: 25 Dec 2006
Age: 71
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25 Jul 2023, 1:56 am

I was 52 when I turned my self diagnosis into an official one. I’d spent many years exploring the fabric of reality, all under the assumption that I must basically be just like everyone else. You just can’t see through that assumption.

I turned that research into exploration of where I might fit in the world as autistic, but finally reached the conclusion that the answer was “nowhere”. Now in my seventies I console myself that at least I know what’s going on. The rest of humanity can’t get out of their own way, and they’re taking the planet with them. Sad, but inescapable now.


Joined: 30 Sep 2013
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25 Jul 2023, 2:18 am

psych tod is a rag
a vanity magazine at best, what those do is sell (mind)space to advertisers

not in the least :jester: hindered by the autority complex (psychologial- as well as institutional complex)

as well as being put off by all those ppl who (can) buy any focking label, as suits them


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25 Jul 2023, 3:09 am

Like the above posters, I was late (age 54) when I was diagnosed. Part of my issues were my parents came from broken, dysfunctional homes.

I have documented the abuse my mother went through growing up. I found out recently that dad may have been a narcissist. I was his scapegoat. My next to youngest brother was the golden child. My other two brothers, and most of my cousins were his flying monkeys. Ditto with my teachers through high school, as well as most of my so-called friends.

I’ve been known to be a lousy perfectionist. Music and perfectionism go hand in hand. I used to, and occasionally still do, have accompanists for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ve had to cancel performances simply because my accompianist couldn’t handle the music I put in front of them. Then again, I’ve had to cancel out because of illness, as well as obtained a newer copy of music I performed almost 40 years, only to find out that edition was heavily edited and no longer made literal or musical sense.

It also didn’t help that I took a lot of abuse from Dad. He’d make a jackass out of me every chance he could, whether it was making a jackass out of me when I was one of two featured soloists with my high school band my senior year, to doing the wolf whistle whenever a girl passed on the street, then blaming me for the whistle (and 9 times out of 10 I wasn’t even interested in the girl. However, the few times I showed interest, Dad got real nasty real fast, including getting a leather belt with a solid brass belt buckle across my fat ass.). Even after I graduated from college, I ended up working for him in a convenience store he managed. He had me on call 24/7/365. I could never do anything right, in his estimation. The abuse finally ended after I got my Master’s degree, and moved to Chicago.

Since 1986, I go into a major depression starting in Mid-July through the end of the year, mostly because Dad died 2 weeks before his 51st birthday and 3 weeks before my 29th birthday. The depression gets worse each passing year.


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Joined: 23 Feb 2020
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26 Jul 2023, 6:32 pm

diagnosis at age 68 really changed my life. I finally understood most of the Whys and painful interactions of the past when I was able to see how autism worked behind the scenes with nobody knowing or suspecting. I have been able to forgive myself for not living up to other's expectations and to forgive them for having expectations I could not possibly meet. Nobody knew! Diagnosis has been healing and knowing my neurological struggles has helped me plan my life with self accommodations, no longer being continually frustrated by trying things I know I have consistently failed all my life due to being ill equipped and having sensory processing disorders that interfere with my performance in so many ways.


"Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.” Samuel Johnson