Hello and welcome to episode 4 of the podcast Tips and Tricks on How to Be Sick.
I’m Eirenne and I will be your host as we talk about navigating the world as people with chronic illnesses, both physical and mental, disabilities, and the ways in which the world isn’t necessarily designed for us.
In this episode, we are going to be talking about autism, also called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and what it’s like to realize, as an adult, that not only are you non-neurotypical but that you are, in fact, autistic. I’m going to take a moment here and give you some definitions before we get started, just so we’re all on the same page and speaking the same language. I, myself, am not autistic, so I’m drawing my information from published articles on the subject, taking care to prioritize actually autistic voices and views whenever possible.
Coined by Judy Singer, an Australian social scientist, the word ‘neurodiversity’ is a non-judgmental, non-medicalized way to talk about and talk to folks who aren’t neurologically typical, or neurotypical. Neurological diversity, or neurodiversity, covers a huge range of things, from anxiety and depression to ADHD and dyslexia and epilepsy and autism and so much more. Essentially, people with some form of neurodivergence are just wired differently than those who are neurotypical. One person can have multiple kinds of neurodivergence, and indeed that happens frequently.
We used to think of being neurotypical as being “normal” and so any deviation from that was bad or wrong or something to be fixed. And yes, in some cases, the neurodivergent person might still want some things to be ‘fixed’ or otherwise made different or better than they are, and seek treatment for them. But, by shifting to thinking in terms of neurodiversity, we give that power and agency back to the people who should have it: the people who are neurodivergent themselves.
Autism is one type of neurodivergence, and one that the autistic community largely does not want to be ‘fixed’ or removed from them. Autism is something people either are or are not born with; nothing “causes” autism, and nothing “cures” autism, either. There could be a whole podcast on just the ways autism can present in people, but I’ll simplify it down here to save time.
Autism is typically noticed in kids around age 2 or so, but some people don’t realize that they are autistic until they’re much older, even into adulthood, perhaps because people around them didn’t notice or pursue the differences in them, maybe because they had a mild presentation as a child, or because they were just trained to hide those differences and act like other children. Regardless of the reason, some folks realize their own specifically-autistic neurodivergence as adults when they realize that they:
- Have trouble with social skills and communication in general; trouble with eye contact and other non-verbal communication, or making emotional connections to other people, or not understanding verbal cues in conversation. And
- That they perform repetitive, restrictive motions or actions; repetitive body movements like rocking or flapping hands, repeating the same words or sounds (this is called echolalia), or repetitively lining up or stacking objects.
Again, this is remarkably simplified here. There are million different ways autism can manifest, and there are resources out there written by people much more knowledgeable than me about it. I’ll include links to some of those in the transcript for this episode.
Now that we’ve got the language sorted, we can get on to talking with our guests this month. We’re going to talk with Tobias, an autistic man in his 20s who knew he was neurodivergent already, but figured out the autistic piece of the puzzle later, and who will now share his tips with us on adjusting to that realization as an adult. We’ll also chat with Dani Higgins, a Licensed Professional Counselor, about the mental health aspect of being autistic, and what it’s like to pursue a formal diagnosis. We’ll discuss self-diagnosis vs formal diagnosis, and the reasons someone may choose, or not, to seek a formal diagnosis from a mental health professional, and we’ll talk about the importance of having an understanding community and support system as an autistic person.
Without further ado, let’s get to the interviews.