There are some specific issues with a late diagnosis which are rarely talked about. The most noticeable one for me is how the environment fails to adjust to a late diagnosis.
I was diagnosed a few months prior to my eighteenth birthday. Which is actually not even that late.
However, many of the people who surround me seem to think that my diagnosis was “too late to take it serious”, in a way.
It’s always the same - people say “well, this hasn’t been an issue prior to your diagnosis, so I don’t understand why it is now”. What they don’t understand is that I’ve always been struggling but only since my diagnosis, I know that my struggles are real and valid and that I’m allowed to ask for accommodations or changes that make my life easier. And when I explain this to them, they always tell me off. They tell me that I’m lying even though I’m known for my honesty (which is actually a huge indicator for me being autistic, but somehow they’d rather turn the facts and see me as a liar than admit that I have always been autistic and even noticeably so. They don’t want to acknowledge it because they don’t want to admit that they don’t know a thing about autism. Like, some of my friends literally said that autism to them means “a person has issues to talk with others”, which they don’t see in me which is why they deny that I’m autistic and even refuse to look into the resources about autism that I send to them). Before I got diagnosed, I was treated badly every time I spoke about my needs because people saw me as “overreacting”, “overly sensitive” and “overdramatic”. I’ve been bullied for YEARS because of these things, because to them, I was being “a sissy”.
And after almost two years as a diagnosed autistic, I can say that many people STILL perceive everything I self-advocate for in this mindset. That people STILL see my behavior as overreacting instead of keeping in mind that I am autistic and yes, for me it is as bad as I’m saying it is. That yes, I really get overly anxious around people (which leads to me rambling instead of not saying anything, which again doesn’t match many people’s view on autism) and that certain noises, lights and textures feel like someone is sticking needles inside my ears, eyes, brain and body.
For myself, I was able to make a lot out of my diagnosis. I gained a lot of self-esteem, unlearned internalized ableism in big parts and found new ways of coping. I also have a better sense for my needs now, because even though most people who surround me still don’t take them serious, at least I do now.
Many people mistake this again as “playing pretend”, because how can I only know now what I need? What they don’t want to understand is that as an autistic person, you have to pay much more attention to yourself in order to know what you need because living in itself is overwhelming and taking up a lot of space in our brains. (Heck, I don’t even realize when I’m thirsty 99% of the time… I can go three days without drinking and I don’t feel like my body is missing anything until I black out. Same goes for food. I need to pay conscious attention to how much I’m drinking and eating because I don’t even have this connection to my body that allistic people have.)
It’s tiring to always fight so that people treat me right because they are dismissive about my needs because they don’t even UNDERSTAND that I have them because I’m perceived as “too allistic” due to my late diagnosis.
As a late diagnosed autistic, I feel like I get automatically treated as some kind of “Watered Down Autistic™”, who just got the label “autism” slapped on themselves in order to have an excuse for all their quirks and “character flaws”. I feel like people view late diagnosed autistic people as “even less autistic than high-functioning autistic people” which is why they inflict further abuse on us and never consider us as autistic.
But what gets me most about this is how they don’t even realize what they do. That they’d rather keep on pretending that I’m not autistic no matter how much I speak up and tell them that it actively harms me and our relationship because it’s easier and more convenient for them to just dismiss my disability and demand from me to be like them. Because apparently, they hate disabled and autistic people too much to actually accept that one of their friends/family members is one of them.
Keep in mind that these people I’m talking about are my friends and family. They are the people closest to me, the people who claim to like me and have my best interest in mind… And to think that even people who interpret their relationship to me like this abuse me on a daily basis without even noticing or caring about it says a lot about ableism. And it also says a lot about how people who don’t like me or are close to me would treat me if they knew I was autistic.