With so much information about autism accessible these days, you might find yourself realising that you yourself are Autistic.
But what happens when you’re in your 50s… or 60s, 70s or 80s and are only just learning about this huge part of your identity?
We know it can be a lot to process and can feel quite overwhelming. On our Autism Connect national helpline we get lots of these calls, and that’s why we can confidently say: you are not alone!
We spoke with one of our Autism Connect Advisors, who was diagnosed later in life, to answer some of the common questions they get asked when someone calls the helpline realising they might be Autistic later in life.
It really depends on what outcomes are important to you. If you are wanting to access formal supports, it can be necessary, and we hear from a lot of people that they find a professional diagnosis validating.
From the advisor’s personal experience being diagnosed later in life, they felt at the time they needed another person to confirm it for them. However, looking back they felt they could have self-identified as Autistic and reached the same point of self-acceptance, and comfort in their identity.
A formal diagnosis can allow you to access formal supports. It can enable you to access reasonable adjustments at work, and if you are under 65 years of age, you may be eligible for NDIS funding.
On the other hand, diagnostic assessments can be expensive, and it can be difficult to book an appointment with practitioner who is experienced with working with Autistic adults, due to long waitlists.
As mentioned above, the NDIS and adjustments at work are some supports you can access with a diagnosis.
There are also supports you can access without a diagnosis, such as peer support. As a community, Autistic people are overall very accepting of self-identification of autism. Talking with other Autistic people can be a really good way to learn more about autism and yourself, and for you to explore and relax into your natural communication style. Autistic people can also share advice about how they manage their sensory sensitivities and more based on their lived experience.
Ultimately, it is up to you. You can choose who you share that you are Autistic with, such as HR, your manager, or your colleagues. If you are seeking reasonable adjustments at work, then you will need to share with your workplace that you are Autistic.
This process will depend on your workplace, but often you will need to speak with HR. It can be useful to have an idea about what sort of adjustments would be helpful to you before you approach HR. Think about the sorts of things you currently have challenges with and what could make life at work easier for you.
You can also call our autism advisors to help figure out what adjustments might be helpful for you.
It is entirely up to you who you share this part of your identity with. Keep in mind that you can’t predict how everyone will respond, and sometimes people’s first reaction is not reflective of where they will end up long term.
It can be helpful to have an idea in your head about what being Autistic means to you and explaining this to people when you share you are Autistic. This is because autism varies so much for each individual Autistic person.
Autism Connect is also an amazing resource you can direct people to if they want to learn more about autism and ways to support you.
There is no correct way to tell someone. Think about how you like to communicate and use that to work out how you might like to share it with someone. You might like to sit down for a coffee with them, or send an email, or write a letter.
It’s okay to have a mix of complicated feelings after receiving your diagnosis. You may experience a combination of excitement, relief, regret, optimism and grief. It’s important to understand that there is no rightway to feel.
A lot of people tell us that they have spent their lives feeling like they don’t fit in, and that realising they were Autistic was the start of understanding themselves better and finally finding ‘their people’.
Once you understand your autism, you can use this awareness to understand why and what you may find difficult, and plan strategies that work for you. You may also like to start exploring Autistic Pride.
Often, we hear people say that it “explains so much about me” or “explains so many of my experiences.”
Sometimes, looking back on your life with this new understanding can result in an initial sense of grief, but it depends on the person. If you are experiencing grief after realising you are Autistic, you might be able to work this out on your own, with other late diagnosed Autistic people, or compassionate friends. Or you might need to chat with a therapist. All of these options are perfectly okay.
A lot of people feel very relived to gain this new understanding of themselves, in addition to a sense of optimism and self-forgiveness in how they move forward in life.