I received an autism diagnosis. Now what?
There are 3 questions that I get asked most commonly after a person receives an autism diagnosis:
- How do I process being autistic?
- Who should I tell about my autism?
- What can I do for my anxiety and depression?
How do I process being autistic?
After your autism diagnosis, a crucial thing to keep foremost in mind is this: You are the same person as before, only now you know you are autistic.
Before deciding to seek an autism diagnosis, you likely researched the possibility for weeks, months, maybe even years. Yet, uncertainty may have remained, and you wanted to know definitively. Even though you felt prepared for the result, you may have experienced unexpected emotions when presented with a formal diagnosis. Give yourself time to assimilate the diagnosis and what it means to you. It takes some time to process the ramifications of knowing for certain that you are autistic, and to re-evaluate past experiences within this new framework.
This is the conclusion of one journey, and the beginning of another!
Everyone reacts differently to their diagnosis. Many are overjoyed, as there is finally an answer as to why frequent challenges would not abate. Suddenly, their lives make sense!
For others, a diagnosis can be a challenging experience. There is a period of mourning, disbelief, and imposter syndrome. For some, the diagnosis creates self-doubt and sadness over how their life could have been different had they been diagnosed earlier. Read more about the common post-diagnosis responses here:
You may need to re-evaluate what you thought you knew—about both yourself and autism. Reflect on key life events in the light of this knowledge. And perhaps most importantly, take the diagnosis as permission to be your authentic self, and recognize why past attempts to fix yourself were likely unsuccessful, even damaging. Because while we can work at ourselves, grow as people, practice self-regulation, etc., it’s important to acknowledge that our autism doesn’t need “fixing”.
Who should I tell about my autism?
Whom you should disclose your autism to may be answered by first asking why and to what end are you disclosing this information. If you have decided to tell someone about your diagnosis, be prepared to respond to their questions or comments concisely. Be ready for a range of reactions; they may be positive, validating, and wonderfully supportive, or they may be dismissive, ignorant, or even hostile. Before broaching the topic, consider the timing, setting, and receptivity of the person.
Are you close with your family, and will their understanding be helpful to you both? Initially, you might tell only your immediate family or those you live with. They also may need time to process the information and what it means to them.
You may feel it best to tell the closest of friends whom you trust. Will it clarify past misunderstandings or those that may occur in the future?
This depends on whether you feel it contextually relevant and if your healthcare provider understands the nature of autism and its co-occurrences.
Informing your teachers will allow them to accommodate your functional challenges. Accommodations might include extra time for tests, a reduced course load, or note-taking support. Your school may have a mandate written for autistic students. You can see an example from the University of Oxford below.
In deciding whether or not to disclose, first identify the challenges that specifically impact your job performance. Be proactive in suggesting reasonable accommodations to increase the likelihood of their implementation.
Telling your co-workers about your diagnosis should be thoughtfully considered. Indeed, it can inadvertently lead to unfavorable outcomes. But also, realize that the act of disclosing can pave the way for opportunities in your employment success. It depends greatly on what you tell others about your autism. For instance, Martin went to a job interview at a design studio, and told his future employers that he is autistic, which gives him a great eye for details, allows him to see patterns others might miss, and drives his passion for niche interests and skills, including typography and type design. He got hired based on his portfolio as well as disclosing the positive aspects of his autism. Had he talked about his challenges and potential work accommodations, then they may have responded less favorably.
So think not only about how it may benefit you (or cause potential challenges) to disclose your autism, but also think about how you disclose it to each person you decide to share that with. What do you say, and for what purpose?
How to address my autistic challenges
The marvelous news is that your autism encompasses numerous positive perks. A lot of the negative things tend to originate from co-occurring conditions, and the way we interface with the external world.
Alexithymia, for example, is responsible for the majority of distressing symptoms that we have. Alexithymia can be treated; DNRS, EMDR, and VNS are effective healing techniques. On a personal level, these approaches have altered my life in a profound way.
In some ways, autism sets the stage for anxiety because of left-right brain differences, our cingulate gyrus, and the amygdala. The above therapeutic techniques take advantage of our brain’s neuroplasticity, reducing our struggles.
And as we develop social skills over time, we can end up being more proficient than neurotypicals at social predictions!Autism spectrum traits predict higher social psychological skill (Gollwitzer et al., 2019)
If you are looking for an autism diagnosis,
Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht can offer help!
You can find more information here: