A guest post from Lumpy Socks, an autistic female with a midlife diagnosis.
“You’ve absolutely done the right thing. We are in absolutely no doubt that we have a highly intelligent autistic woman sitting in front of us.”
I felt such an immense sense of relief that I could finally explain how I had been feeling for so many years. I was not a bad person. Many of the things I felt, I had assumed everyone felt. Many of the things I experienced, I had learned to cope with or to mask:
My organisational skills are pretty good, but this is possibly more out of necessity and survival than a natural ability to be organised. Look around my kitchen, for instance, you will see shopping lists, packing lists, to-do lists, an empty vitamin jar as a reminder to buy more, a sheet of foil on the work surface as a reminder to make packed lunches, everything absolutely in its place and virtually bare worktops (to the extent we are frequently asked whether we’ve just moved in or are about to move out).
I’ve spent my life watching and analysing how other people behave with fascinated interest, but also so that I can find tactics and strategies to copy, to fit in, for my own survival.
I felt like an imposter as a human being, that I wasn’t doing a very good job of being one, no matter how hard I tried.
There are many analogies to compare neurodivergent with neurotypical wiring, such as Apple versus android, but, to use the eloquent Holly Smales’ brilliant analogy: I’d spent my whole life trying to be a duck when, actually, I’m a frog. I’m a rubbish duck, but a brilliant frog!
I felt such an immense sense of relief…I’d spent my whole life trying to be a duck when, actually, I’m a frog. I’m a rubbish duck, but a brilliant frog!
Besides the relief, I felt frustration. Why hadn’t people picked up on all the “red flags” the psychologists had talked about? – Hating to wear socks because I couldn’t bear the lumps on the seams; battles to find suitable underwear because I didn’t like the baggy feeling; never knowing what to wear because nothing felt comfortable and yet I was desperate to fit in and dress like other children my age; taking the label on my knickers, “keep away from fire” literally, so thinking I couldn’t go near a bonfire; switching the TV off when I was 5 years old because the announcer said “the following TV programmes are for the under 5’s”; collecting milky bar foil wrappers (other brands are available), purple things, key rings, happy meal toys; spending hours lining up objects in my bedroom in just the right way; kicking the child who dared to put the toy in the wrong box at school; preferring to play alone; hiding in my wardrobe to get away from people; short-lived friendships…and so on.
Masking and development of coping strategies are reasons that autism diagnoses are often missed. Females are often very adept at masking and developing coping strategies. I have certainly developed these in abundance over time. However, I am very confident that these flags were missed as autism, at the time that I was growing up, was very much seen as a “boy thing”. Very rarely was autism recognised in females and non-binary individuals. Consequently, it just wasn’t considered as an explanation for any of my feelings or behaviours.