Can You Be Autistic And Not Know It?

By Beth;

Can you be autistic and not know it? The answer is: YES, absolutely.

I had no idea that I was autistic until I started suspecting it when I was twenty (and then got a professional diagnosis two years later). That doesn’t mean that my autistic traits magically popped up at that age, nor does it mean that my autism is ‘mild’ or that I’m very ‘high functioning’ (please don’t actually use those terms), it’s simply that I had no education about what autism really is. I’m not going to discuss how the wider world didn’t notice or barriers to diagnosis, but how I, due to lack of understanding, completely misunderstood and misinterpreted my own experiences. 

Let’s begin with sensory issues. I know it might be hard to believe, but I had no idea I struggled sensory-wise until I was twenty, when I finally joined up the dots between the outside world and my physical and emotional reactions, which up until that point I believed to be completely separate and unable to interact. I had always hated loud noises and crowded places, became exhausted and grumpy after trips out of the house and been far more sensitive to sound and touch than the people around me. I never understood why and came up with various different ‘answers’. I used to wonder if I was an alien, a vampire, a superhuman, then eventually settled on just being a massive, overdramatic, grumpy b-word. As you can probably tell, this ‘answer’ wasn’t great for my self esteem!

Next is social interaction. I was passed off as shy through my entire school life, from nursery to year eleven, and was always told I needed to speak more in lessons. This used to frustrate me a lot, as it wasn’t that I didn’t want to speak, I just felt like I couldn’t. Sometimes I would sit on the edge of my group of friends and be desperate to want to add something to the conversation, or even just be noticed, but my lips felt as though they were glued shut. I would be constantly anxious and on edge, never quite sure how to connect with others and was terrified of getting things ‘wrong’. On the other hand, I could also be too much for people, ‘latching’ on to one person and becoming intense and suffocating, never wanting to be apart from them and using them as a crutch. I’d often retreat into a fantasy world, especially as a teenager, and create my own imaginary friends so I could experience the sort of interaction and friendship that I craved in real life. I would also promise myself that this was all just a phase and that I’d grow out of it one day, blooming into a magical, neurotypical social butterfly with all my social anxiety melting away. Yeah…That’s never happened. It’s not all doom and gloom though as honestly, I did, and still do, enjoy my own company. 

There are many other traits I’d like to cover, and wish I could add a lot more to the ones I’ve already written about, but I think I’ll leave it there for now as I don’t want it to become a giant ramble that’s a chore to read, and I think making a ‘part two’ another day would be a better option. So, obviously, if education about autism was better I’d most likely have had my ‘light bulb’ moment when I was a lot younger, or maybe somebody else would have realised it for me. Nothing good comes from lack of education, only ignorance, and that ignorance led me to a lot of mental health and self esteem issues. Do I blame myself? No, not at all. I just hope education about autism dramatically improves so that less and less people will have to go through life never truly knowing themselves or understanding their own experiences.

11 Oct, 2021


Author: Workers' Archive

Covering sensitivity at work and beyond on my website:

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