Autism in the Rearview Mirror: seeing our own after a child's diagnosis

(with a link to the AQ tool below. The Autism-Spectrum Quotient Test (AQ) is a diagnostic questionnaire designed to measure the expression of Autism-Spectrum traits in an individual, by his or her own subjective self-assessment.)

My daughter was diagnosed with autism in March of 2021. She was 10 years old, nearly 11. I always knew she was a unique learner, danced to the beat of her own drummer. So much of her reflected how I was...so it didn't really stand out. People would say things from time to time, but we live in a rural area where kids are allowed to be themselves...I raised her as I was raised...it all seemed normal. I didn't peg her as willful, difficult, picky, emotionally needy or any such negative characteristics. She was as my mom had once described me: adventurous, courageous, strong willed and sensitive. We were both single children, maybe that was it?


During the process of her diagnosis I began to look closer at myself. Many of the answers to questions that pegged her as being different also had applied to me. I thought back to my childhood, how I had been singled out by teachers for having no friends and was recommended to see the school counselor and join a "friends" group in 3rd grade. I remembered my high school years and how painfully shy I was that I just avoided certain situations, hated eye contact and kept to my group of outliers. I found that drugs and alcohol were much easier than being real...and I developed an eating disorder. In my early 20's I decided I wanted to see a therapist so I could learn how to be in a romantic relationship, I didn't feel like I knew how even though I'd had a couple of boyfriends in high school...I just didn't get it and I hated dating.


Yet...I was totally independent and would never say my own autistic or neurodivergent characteristics impeded me from the flow of life. College, marriage, family, career...it all happened without dire consequences. I excelled in graduate school...all of the research and singular focus sang to my strengths. I got over my eating disorder, stopped using drugs or alcohol to make me social, and dove in deep to interpersonal work and transformation. For me, those were the tickets...good therapists, some close friends, and lots of books and research.


I'm a Speech Language Pathologist, and have worked with autistic people for over 20 years. I've been interested in working with children on the autism spectrum since I read "Dibs in Search of Self" when I was 7 years old. I know this population well, but I didn't see it in myself, or my daughter. Now I understand when they say "you can't see the forest for the trees."


Autism is a medical diagnosis, you only get it if you show signs of distress, which, although I was certainly distressed in my youth, I don't know that I would have ever gotten a formal diagnosis. Were my autistic characteristics ever interfering with my ability to function? Probably not...but that doesn't mean they weren't there. It also doesn't mean that I can't learn and adjust, and wholeheartedly grow in to myself. It's not about masking (faking) or hiding...it's about learning and growing and finding the supports help us get us there.


Autism in the rearview mirror is real...it's becoming more documented as we have better diagnostic information, which means more children are getting diagnosed...and more parents are seeing their own parallels. Some parents get a formal diagnosis, others (like me) just see the similarities and know it's the missing link we've felt our whole lives. For me, I don't feel the need to do anything about it, but it gives me understanding as to what was going on, why I never felt like I fit in (even if I did) and it helps my husband understand some of my idiosyncrasies. I now see why emotions were so challenging for me...why I went so quickly from frustration to anger or why I shut down completely when I'm emotionally overwhelmed. Understanding I'm on the spectrum has given me free agency to understand myself...it's a tool, not a ticket.


Here is a link to a recent article on this very topic, posted in The Guardian on December 16th and titled A lot fell into place’: the adults who discovered they were autistic – after their child was diagnosed https://apple.news/AP5YLapABQvy53VZcv-_j0w


The above article mentions the AQ, which is a fabulous and interesting tool that is not considered a diagnostic indicator of autism, though there are some high correlates...which basically means the tool isn't always accurate, though it can give you an idea if you have autism or not. Here's a link to that https://psychology-tools.com/test/autism-spectrum-quotient





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