The Relief of a Late Autism Diagnosis
Receiving a late diagnosis of autism in adulthood can be a relief. For high-functioning individuals, it’s not uncommon to receive a diagnosis later in life. Because autism characteristics are becoming more known to the general population, undiagnosed adults are becoming aware that these characteristics explain their significant life-long experiences and struggles. Strong academic performance did not necessarily result in gainful employment. There have been problems in relationships, expressing emotions, and accusations of being self-centered.
Once a diagnosis happens, it can open many doors such as finding suitable employment, obtaining a higher education, securing a supported living situation outside the parental home, or accessing financial assistance and services.
Although many adults feel relieved about receiving a diagnosis, it also means a whole new way of defining oneself and having to defend the diagnosis. A person may experience feelings of depression, anger, anxiety, grief, or guilt. These are all common and normal reactions. In order to cope, it may be helpful to seek support from post-diagnostic experts such as social workers, counsellors, psychiatric nurses, vocational rehabilitation counsellors or professionals with experience in grieving, loss, and recovery work.
Carol Ogburn’s post on late autism diagnosis gives solid recommendations on how to seek an adult diagnosis as well as the emotional experiences around a diagnosis. She suggests reading Cynthia Kim’s book I Think I Might Be Autistic. There is also Philip Wylie’s new book Very Late Diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder) which details the stages of late diagnosis, from self-identification to acceptance. It discusses mental health issues that can arise, supports that are available and strategies for the future.
It may also be helpful to join a support group of other adults with the same diagnosis. Support groups can be found through a local autism society, mental health unit in a hospital, or through a local mental health clinic. If a community does not have a support group, there are also a number of support groups/chat rooms on the Internet such as the OASIS @ MAPP, GRASP On-Line Support Groups, and The Autism Support Network Chat.
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