After wading through a lot of negative stuff constructed from the ‘deficit’ model of neurodiversity, I came across a relatively recent strand of research which takes a very different approach. This branch of research examines the view that diagnosis or identification as autistic as an adult can have a profoundly positive impact on identity and self-concept.
There is one study* in particular that I keep returning to, as the themes and the insights are profound and relatable. The author, Catherine Tan, has a term for the shift in perspective that occurs when an adolescent or adult is diagnosed as autistic:
“a transformed conceptualization of self and identity that is facilitated by but extends beyond medical meaning and context, enriching personal biography and social relationships.”
Basically, finding out later on in life that you are autistic (and this can also apply to ADHD or any other neurodiversity) lets you see yourself, your history and your relationships from a new perspective and can, as a result of doing so, actually improve pretty much every aspect of your life.
Imagine a stadium, left in darkness for years, suddenly lit up by the glare of the floodlights. This is how it feels. All this time, your view has been obscured by a shadowy darkness where shapes and contours were impossible to make out, and you have struggled or judged yourself harshly for your inability to do what seems to come easily to everyone else whilst you are feeling around in the dark.
Finding out that you are fundamentally different shines a bright new spotlight on your history, your relationships and your entire identity and sense of self: it offers a shiny, knowledgeable new perspective, one in which you can view your past self with compassion and re-evaluate your identity.
Remove the neurotypical filters to see yourself in a new light.
Coming next: what Tan’s study has to say about cutting yourself some slack and finding your people.
*The full-text of this article is freely available and I would recommend reading it.