A late diagnosis of autism in adults can create a range of new feelings as you process what this means for you. We have found that, initially, for many individuals, a neuroaffirming assessment can be a relief, finally explaining challenges faced.
A formal diagnosis can provide an explanation for years of feeling 'different,' 'out of place', or like you don't fit in. For some, they report that the diagnosis gave them a sense of belonging.
Such validation can be empowering, providing a new framework for understanding yourself and your experiences. It can also offer a sense of newfound hope and identity.
As well as the positives of having an official diagnosis, over time, some more distressing emotions can emerge as you process your diagnosis and re-examine your life and childhood through this new lens.
A typical experience for people after a late diagnosis is a sense of grief: for lost opportunities, grief for lost friendships, and a sense of loss and sadness that if someone had noticed this earlier, if they had been diagnosed earlier, they might not have faced so many struggles and challenges.
Late diagnosis may also explain why some previous diagnoses didn't 'feel right', or why treatments for periods of poor mental health felt ineffective or didn’t 'stick'.
Many undiagnosed adults have faced challenges with anxiety, depression, or even misdiagnoses, which can be recontextualised after an autism diagnosis.
Even if you have suspected you were autistic for a long time, the official diagnosis can bring up emotions like grief, anger, loss, confusion, and more.
Grief and Loss:
Some people report feeling very sad for the life they could have had if they had been diagnosed earlier and received the accommodations, understanding, and support they felt they missed out on during life.
Anger arises from lost opportunities and the belief that life could have been easier with earlier accommodations. There's also frustration towards those who missed the early 'symptoms' leading to a delayed diagnosis.
A new diagnosis can reframe your life's choices, leading to confusion about whether past decisions were made to fit in or were genuinely desired. This may also impact relationships, as embracing an autistic identity can change how one relates to others.
Others feel confused about how society perceives them, or whether they want to openly identify as autistic to friends, family, or in the workplace. Challenges with Identity: While some feel a sense of relief, others might struggle with their newfound identity, grappling with questions like, "Who am I if not the person I believed I was for all these years?"
Masking, assimilating, and conforming are often approaches that autistic people use to hide their autism symptoms before diagnosis. When diagnosed, people may change by no longer hiding their authentic selves.
What help is available post-diagnosis struggles?
If you are struggling with any of these post-diagnosis emotions, there is help available. Online support groups, community groups, mentorships, coaching, therapy, and more. There is no right time to ask for help. Often people find the hardest part is booking the first appointment, they aren't sure what to say, or may think others need the support more.
We believe that asking for help and making that initial call is the hardest. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength. Making that first call or appointment might feel daunting, but it's a crucial step towards understanding and embracing your new diagnosis. You're not alone, and support is available whenever you're ready