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How is it Monday again already? Jeez, these busy weeks just get faster and faster, don’t they? Anyway, you guys know what Monday means- it’s guest blogger time! Today we’re so lucky to have Arianne from over at arianneswork.com, who is here to talk about her unique experience with getting an autism diagnosis.
I was so excited that Arianne wanted to tell her story because she actually didn’t get her autism diagnosis until she was in her twenties.
Since Uninspired is dedicated to helping women in their twenties live their best lives, I immediately knew I wanted her to write a piece for us. While there may not be a ton of people who can relate directly to learning they’re autistic as an adult, I would bet money that a lot of you have gone through major life changes as an adult that altered the way you view the world. That could be a diagnosis of some kind, because some mental illnesses like schizophrenia, anxiety and/or depression, alcoholism, and more, all tend to surface during this time. Them’s some facts. Check me. Also, I’m in school for this stuff. I know the things.
But it doesn’t have to be a diagnosis. I can think of a ton of reasons a person might have to shift their perspective on the world way after they think they have things all sorted out. Losing a close family member might do it, taking a huge financial hit, making a drastic move across the country or even out of the country, and more. So yes, this post is about getting an autism diagnosis, and you will learn a lot about how people like Arianne experience it. But this post is also an excellent reason to mull over how you respond to change.
I started Mental Health Monday because…
…I wanted to open people’s minds and give them hope, and I knew I couldn’t do it based solely on my own experience. On my own, I couldn’t possibly find ways to relate to every single one of you. But seeing firsthand that someone has gone through a similar experience to yours and come out the other side stronger for it? That’s where hope lives. That’s the second thing that Arianne offers with her post today.
So, whether you’ve gotten an autism diagnosis, or a different life-changing diagnosis as an adult, or if you just need some support through a big perspective shift in your life, this post is for you.
Receiving an Autism Diagnosis in Adulthood
“As a child, I didn’t know I was different. I attributed bullying, bad situations, and negative conversations to my Hispanic background. As I got older, I thought people who didn’t like me were racist, sexist, or stupid. I figured out I was a little different in high school, when I realized I had to have social situations explained to me by my close friends. I didn’t understand how I said the wrong thing all the time, I just knew I did it. My mom called it “foot-in-mouth syndrome”. I just thought she was being funny.
There are two famous parts of autism.
Poor social skills and poor communication skills. Those two parts interact in the autistic brain because the stimuli in the environment distract from emotional conversation (which, let’s face it, is every conversation). It’s in the brain; it’s neurological in nature. We can’t psychologically not get distracted by the environment. Often, those distractions cause us to project invalid emotional cues. The cues we unintentionally project get mistaken for emotions directed at the other person. You can see how this creates many misunderstandings.
I learned about emotions from reading a lot, but I still have trouble with social nuance. It’s a bit of a mystery to me. Sometimes I’ll recognize a subtle emotional cue is happening, like an eyebrow raise or blank stare. Sometimes I respond appropriately, but sometimes I misinterpret what it means, which leads to confusion. It’s easier for me to ignore the cue so I don’t get distracted from the point of the conversation. I’ll look away or close my eyes. People won’t judge you for missing their cues if they can see that you aren’t looking for them.
Eye contact and staring at faces drifts my focus from the speaker’s words. It’s the opposite that happens in normal people. I’ll be listening intently and understanding completely, but if during my turn to talk I can’t focus on getting my words together, I’ll start listing the distracting things around me, like noises, smells, brightness, etc. If it’s a lot, the tone of my voice changes and becomes a little aggressive. I didn’t used to think anything of it, until I realized that was why people didn’t think I was nice. I get nervous talking now, because I like people thinking I’m nice. Wearing sensory dulling aids, like sunglasses, earplugs, and long-sleeved shirts helps keep me focused on the conversation.
I learned about autism when I was 24.
I had my phrases that I would say to common reactions to me, and I didn’t think anything of it. One day, after a particularly bad interaction, I googled “not good at socializing” and found quite a few mental health resources. I stumbled on a page about autism and my world went for a spin.
At first, I was in denial. This lasted for about a year. I learned little random things about autism, and I would tell myself I didn’t do them, so that meant I didn’t have it. I figured I wasn’t THAT different. After all, I had some social skills, I just needed to get better, and just because I didn’t make eye contact didn’t mean I had autism.
That year was a tough year for my health. I was gaining weight, experiencing joint pain, headaches, fatigue, random rashes and LOTS of stress. If I got too stressed out, I would break out into hives, which seemed to happen over any little thing. I decided it was finally time to see a therapist. Not because of that autism business, I didn’t have autism, I thought, but just because I was so stressed by life and not being able to keep up. I was feeling pretty down about myself.
After a few visits with my therapist, she asked me if I’d ever heard of autism. We discussed it, and she advised me to look into the community. I got my diagnosis confirmed by a psychiatrist.
I’m still figuring out my life on the spectrum.
I would say it was a little bit of a relief, but a very big jolt to reality. I had no idea I was as different as I am. When I was a kid I was told I was special, but I’d seen everyone get told that, so I thought it was one of those things they told kids to make them feel good. I never took it seriously. I waited to tell my mom about my autism diagnosis, and when I told her, I told her first that I was different. Like really different, according to my therapist. She told me that she knew. That was mostly the relief. It also made me feel self-conscious, because I realized it wasn’t everyone else, it was me. My perspective changed, and my diagnosis made me more self-aware.
My brain processes emotions based on words, so eventually in conversation, words start to mean nothing. I start getting anxious if I still don’t understand and I notice this is starting to happen. Combine this with sensory distractions, and I might shut down, have a panic attack, or maybe even have a meltdown. There is a reason that people with autism feel shame and humiliation when we experience meltdowns.
Meltdowns happen when we experience sensory or social overload, or both.
It’s difficult for us to control our emotions at that point, so the more emotional intelligence we have, the less likely we are to be a danger to ourselves. Self-hitting, crying, screaming, and yelling are examples of this very painful and embarrassing experience.
I struggle with feeling proud to be a part of a community based on inclusion, self-awareness and acceptance, and feeling frustrated that minute things out of my control affect what I can and can’t do at times. I find myself experiencing emotional awakening more times that I thought possible. There are so many layers to human emotion, and it’s so difficult to keep track. There is something to emotions that I never considered before my diagnosis though: being interpreted as nice feels really good.”