by YDRF member Lisa Bone
Autism is not something that ‘goes away’. It doesn’t fade as you get older, and so the age at which you get a diagnosis shouldn’t matter. I had no idea what Autism even was until I was around 16/17 years old; and so we must as a society consider the fact that not everyone will have the opportunity to get their diagnosis at a young age. It can make a huge difference on an individual, no matter how old they are or what stage of life they are at.
I want to tell my story on how my life changed from the day I received my diagnosis, and explain why individuals should not be refused a diagnosis simply because they are an adult (which is starting to happen across the UK).
Before I received my Autism diagnosis at the age of 18, I had spent years of my childhood struggling with so many things, like being in groups, perfectionism, and depression and anxiety. Although getting my diagnosis didn’t have a huge effect on me overnight, I slowly began to process my past and understand why I was the way I was. After years of giving myself such a hard time over failure, I could actually recognise why I found things so difficult. I felt a sense of comfort around the fact that I could almost ‘explain’ my own behaviours to myself. This resulted in a lot of relief mentally as I could resonate with who I was, and I could help myself in a much better way as I knew what my own challenges were.
This whole process allowed me to understand what my boundaries are too. I had spent my whole time at school and college being a ‘yes man’, agreeing to everything and never giving myself a break. I think this ultimately is what led to my mental health challenges; but the reason I did these things was because a) I didn’t want to let anyone down or come across as a failure and b) I desperately wanted to fit in and be like everyone else. Since my diagnosis, I have been able to stop committing to so much because I now understand how much I can take on before I burn out. I have also learned to accept myself more, and to not take on things just to ‘fit in’. Without my diagnosis, I don’t think this would have been the case.
Regardless of your age, a diagnosis is an incredible tool for an Autistic individual, as it allows them to communicate their difficulties more easily (communication can be a challenge for Autistic people like me). Everything is put together so that you can simply pass the information on to someone else. Being able to do this makes life just that much easier; in relationships, in friendships and at work.
Although a diagnosis would have been helpful for me at school, getting one as an adult has meant I can tell my employers the things I struggle with and get the right support in a working environment. I spend the majority of my life at work, and so it’s absolutely vital that I feel supported and comfortable, and able to express any worries I have to my employer. Without a diagnosis, this would have been so much more difficult for me to do, and I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Work can be difficult at the best of times, and so the importance of getting a diagnosis, regardless of age, speaks for itself here.
Whilst we are on the subject of work; a diagnosis can also grant you the opportunity for support during the recruitment process. There are many jobs I’ve applied for in the past that actually explain that if you have a disability, you are entitled to extra support, such as having the questions pre-interview, or even having less people at your interview.
Once I became more comfortable and accepting of being Autistic, I was able to start explaining things with more ease to my friends and family. This made a huge difference to my relationships, and therefore, has improved my mental health and wellbeing. The people that I love can really understand why I might not attend a family event, or why changes to plans last minute make me frustrated.
Before my diagnosis, most people would have seen me as ‘difficult’; but the truth was that I was just really struggling with things that others found easy. Having my diagnosis actually helped me to feel more comfortable in expressing my true feelings, rather than going to a party, masking my emotions all evening and having a meltdown afterwards.
One of the biggest changes in my life after I received my Autism diagnosis was the passion I had to help other disabled people. It started a fire in me to raise as much awareness as I could and provide support to anyone who needed it. Here’s a few things that I have done since knowing I was Autistic:
- Wrote a dissertation based around Autism
- Raised £1000 for a charity that helps individuals with disabilities
- Spoken publicly about Autistic masking in different workplace settings to raise awareness
- Started up an Autism focused support chat in my last workplace
- Helped my previous employers to consider accessibility during recruitment
- Written blogs and articles on my experience of Autism
- Written and recorded a song about Autism and sung it for audiences live
- Completed an Autism training course
None of this would have happened without a diagnosis, and I can see how much I have changed personally too since knowing. I’m more confident in my own skin and feel comfortable sharing my stories and expressing my feelings. It’s made a huge impact on my mental health, and has also given me a new purpose in life; to help and support others who are faced with challenges like my own. I can’t imagine how it would have affected me if I had been denied a diagnosis; and so from personal experience, I hope this blog can open people’s eyes up to the significance of diagnosing Autism, no matter who you are or how old you are.
To learn more about the current restrictions around autism and ADHD diagnosis visit our Updates Page.