By Becca Lory, CAS
I am often asked what it felt like to get an autism diagnosis at age 36. As an active Autism Advocate, writer, and public speaker, when I say often…I mean OFTEN. I struggled for a while with how exactly I could describe that moment. One day I realized I was struggling, not because I didn’t have an answer, but rather because it wasn’t one single moment. It was a series of moments. There was the moment I first read about autism, the moment I decided to seek a diagnosis, the moment I began my evaluation, the moment I was told the test results, and, most importantly, the moment I first said it aloud about myself. I am autistic. But the one single word that ties all of those moments together is relief. Yes, relief.
I had been told for as long as I can remember that I was stubborn, lazy, manipulative, over dramatic, and mean. At the early age of 5 or 6, I had been to the first of countless psychologists and psychiatrists who would over the years label me as school phobic, social phobic, depressed, and anxious. From my early teens on, I had been medicated for everything from panic disorder to manic depression to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Basically, I had spent a lifetime hearing that something was wrong with me and worse, believing to my deepest core that I was broken and unfixable. As soon as I stumbled upon what was then called Asperger’s syndrome, now Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I knew my life would never be the same. What I didn’t know was how much better it could be.
I remember the day I read about autism for the first time. I remember the day I began my evaluation. I remember the day I was told that I officially belonged on the autism spectrum and I remember the day I first said aloud, I am autistic. What I remember about those days is both good and bad. None of it was easy. Yet along with each and every moment of that part of my journey, I evolved, I learned, I grew, and I was relieved. I was NOT broken. I was NOT unfixable. I was NOT a lost cause. And most of all, I was NOT alone.
It turns out there are a lot of us who have survived decades without the skill sets we require, without having our needs addressed, without the proper vocabulary to describe what is happening in our brains and bodies, and without knowing why the world feels so much like an alien planet. But I am one of the lucky ones. I know now. I can adapt to my needs, face my challenges, and enjoy my gifts. I even get to share my experiences and educate others about what it is like to process the world through a unique filter. I am part of an incredibly supportive and loving community that we call the spectrum. And it is a relief. Being able to love yourself for exactly who you are is a relief. Having others love you for it too is an even bigger relief.
I am a woman. I am an adult. I am autistic. And I am PROUD!