I’m what you would call a late-diagnosed autistic – I’m 43 years old and just found out this year. It’s been enlightening, scary, frustrating, and sometimes funny all at once. Discovering that I’m autistic has been a remarkable journey (and it’s not done yet by a long shot!). I’ve learned so much about myself and so much about autism and neurodivergence – almost every day I read something new that blows my mind. So many questions have been answered, and so many more questions asked to which the answers remain hidden. There have been a few stages to the process, a couple of which have really surprised me. Actually I don’t know if “stages” would be the right word because so much of it has been all at once – an avalanche of feelings and epiphanies and thoughts and questions. Perhaps just different “feelings” would be more apt.
When I first found out I’m autistic there was a real sense of despair or grief. I’ve always known I was different and saw the world differently and had challenges that others didn’t, but I always thought it was something I could fix. Something that would eventually go away, or I would overcome somehow. If I just do “x”, things will be better. Once I move out of my hometown things will be better. Once I’m done school things will be better. Once I get a better job things will be better. Once I lose weight things will be better. The cure for whatever was causing my problems was always just around the corner. Now I have to come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be “better”. Whatever I do, I will never be normal. Nothing is going to fix this. I am autistic, it’s who I am. This is the way I am for better or worse and there’s nothing I or anyone else can do about it. After spending an entire lifetime thinking I would someday be normal, this is a lot to take in. It’s a lot to process.
At the same time, this revelation created a feeling of anger and frustration. I’m 43 years old and just learning this NOW? How different and how much better could my life have been if I knew this 15, 20, 30 years ago? I display damn near every trait autistic people are known to exhibit, but nobody could put 2 and 2 together? This anger isn’t directed at anyone in particular however – my parents are boomers and had children late. Autism even today is still relatively unknown and unstudied; 40 years ago it was a near total mystery. It’s more a sense of frustration that my life could have turned out very differently had more been known about autism. Maybe I would have done better in school. Maybe I would have made more true friends. Maybe I would have actually gotten more serious about some of those special interests rather than brushing them aside because they didn’t fit in my masked persona. The frustration at what could have been is very real.
But despite all of that, I actually also feel a mix of relief and excitement. All my life I had known I was different and I found a lot of pretty basic things a lot harder than everyone else, but I had no idea why. Learning about my autism has allowed me to give a name to my demons, has given me a measure of control. I feel like now that I know who I am and why I do certain things, I can make effective accommodations for myself and sometimes even use my autism to my advantage. Learning who you are, what you are, how you think and why you think that way is empowering. I feel like I can really begin to take control of my life and live it in the best way I can. Even though the journey has been hard at times, I would rather be on the journey than on the sidelines wondering what’s going on!
– Mark Thompson