February 21, 2019

How do I know if I’m autistic?

Last updated on February 15, 2021

It can be challenging to deduce whether or not we are autistic, because even a lot of professionals are not fully aware yet of who we are. Additionally, since we have only one frame of reference, it can sometimes take many years to understand just in what ways we are different. Martin realized he has Asperger syndrome when he was 19, whereas I was 47 when I came to realize I’m autistic!

As such, I figured some guidance might offer a lot of people some help—and potentially, a much earlier diagnosis.


Different

Regardless of whether we suspect we might be autistic, I think what happens in general is that we feel different in several—if not many—ways, among which:

  • Social differences — Being lower in social motivation, not understanding small talk, prone to overlook or ignore certain social conventions, etc.
  • Communication differences — Clumsy conversation, literal interpretations, using technical language, etc.
  • Cognitive differences — Not caring about things that neurotypicals care about, and being deeply engaged with learning about our special interests.

And we try to figure out why we don’t have the same desire to socialize. Why our parents have to force us to call our friends. Or why we are clumsy physically and socially…etc. Read more about physical clumsiness (motor impairments) in our post on the cerebellum:

Autistic brain differences – Cerebellum

Let me tell you how I found out that I might be autistic—and how I eventually knew for sure.


Alone

My whole life I felt like I was alone. Alone in my family, alone in the world. I was always obsessed with certain things like the colour purple. Martin even laughed the other day when I pulled out my running shoes—yup purple.

Embrace Autism | How do I know if I’m autistic? | photo PurpleSneakers

I honestly did not know what adult autism looked like. I am not sure why it never occurred to me that children with autism grow up into adults with autism.


Suggestion

I met Martin—who already had an autism diagnosis at the time—through his interactions on Quora, and he suggested I might be autistic.

Laughable, I thought. After all, I had spoken to others about how to even communicate successfully with someone who had Asperger’s; I didn’t have any challenges in communication (I thought), so how could I be autistic?

I purchased numerous books on the subject. Still, I saw myself as neurotypical (but different). In the end, I took the AQ test and scored a whopping 39 on it (a score of 26 is generally the threshold above which you are likely autistic). Here are my and Martin’s scores on various autism tests:

Embrace Autism | How do I know if I’m autistic? | diagram AutismTestScoresNatalie
You might want to try some of these tests; we especially recommend the AQ Test and the RAADS-R.
ASD Tests: AQ-10AQ TestAspie QuizRAADS-REQ TestSQ TestEQSQ Test

This led to me reading up more about the topic and seeking out a clinical diagnosis (2 in fact).


Diagnostic criteria

Next, let’s look at the diagnostic criteria…

The greatest challenge with figuring out if you are autistic is that the DSM makes it difficult to understand and interpret the language. There are a few diagnostic criteria for autism; let’s translate them to something more plebeian.*

I’m joking of course; let’s translate the diagnostic criteria to something more understandable!

A. Persistent difficulties in the social use of verbal and nonverbal communication

Basically, if you find that:

  • Social communication and following social conventions is something you do, but prefer not to do, or;
  • You use more formal language, or use words that people don’t understand, or;
  • You have a tendency to take things literally, or;
  • You are not great at following the (proper) social signals for interaction, so that you:
    • Speak out of turn, or;
    • Interrupt people, or;
    • Talk too much, or;
    • Don’t talk, or;
    • Talk about your own topic of interest when it doesn’t connect to anything said in a group, or;
    • Sometimes/often miss sarcasm as you don’t understand with what intention a statement is made (you may use sarcasm with ease yourself, while not understanding when others are being sarcastic).

If any of this describes you, then you can check-mark this.

Embrace Autism | How do I know if I’m autistic? | illustration CheckMark4

B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities

Basically, do you do better with a routine or have special interests (things that you kind of get obsessive about?); do you stim (repeat a movement such as fiddling with keys, flap your hands, move your fingers in a particular way, headbang, etc. to alleviate anxiety); and finally do you have sensory challenges (find wool itchy/scratchy, get overheated, don’t do well in crowds, sensitivity to light or sound, etc.). If so give, yourself a second check mark.

Embrace Autism | How do I know if I’m autistic? | illustration CheckMark3

C. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).

Basically, were these symptoms present when you were a kid? And have the negative symptoms intensified as you got older and had to take more responsibilities and navigate the social world? Have you masked certain symptoms later in life because you found it makes people accept you more?

If yes, give yourself a third check mark!

Embrace Autism | How do I know if I’m autistic? | illustration CheckMark2D. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

Do your symptoms cause problems in your life?
Another yes?

Embrace Autism | How do I know if I’m autistic? | illustration CheckMark1
Yup, another checkmark.

And finally…

E. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability

This is pretty obvious…

Embrace Autism | How do I know if I’m autistic? | illustration CheckMark6If you got 5 checkmarks, or even 4…then you may want to take one—or several—of the autism tests mentioned above (also listed at the bottom of our home page).


Common statements

If it’s of any help, I can list things that many of us have said:

The prevalence of victimization due to bullying in autistic people was an astounding 94%,[6]Middle-class mothers’ perceptions of peer and sibling victimization among children with Asperger’s syndrome and nonverbal learning disorders compared to 30% in the general public.[7]Cross-national time trends in bullying behaviour 1994-2006: findings from Europe and North America[8]Shedding Light on a Pervasive Problem: A Review of Research on Bullying Experiences Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

We also tend to be loyal, honest, and kind; and we tend to be autodidacts and possess a wealth of information on certain topics, although we often overlook our positive traits. For that reason, we compiled a list of common advantages and disadvantages in autism:

Super Powers & Kryptonite

Obviously, a diagnosis will confirm that you have autism. If you think you might be autistic and have any questions, let us know by leaving a comment below, or ask your questions in either of our Facebook groups:

 Embrace ASD Community | Embrace ASD Open Community
This article
was written by:
dr-natalie-engelbrecht

I’m a dually licensed registered psychotherapist and naturopathic doctor, and a Canadian leader in trauma, PTSD, and integrative medicine strictly informed by scientific research.

And not only do I happen to be autistic, but my autism plays a significant role in who I am as a doctor and how I interact with and care for my patients and clients.

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