Ahead of Autism Awareness Day on Sunday, I often wonder if anybody has asked autistic people how they feel about this day.
Are people aware that a major barrier for autistic people can be a lack of access to affordable diagnoses, for example, whether for children or adults?
Diagnoses through the private health sector are often the only option for people, and these cost money. Psychologists are not all equally experienced in diagnosing adults as autistic, especially women, which is one of many reasons why some autistic people self-diagnose or identify.
Laura Crowley has an important story to tell about her path to finding out she was autistic.
She has worked with autistic children, teens, and adults for more than 23 years. When she isn’t lecturing on the Diploma in Autism Studies in UCC, she runs her own consultancy company, Connect Autism Consultancy, a service that focuses on social skills, along with an emphasis on the barriers which prevent social engagement.
Laura’s honest account of her search for answers shows how rewarding it can be to get an autism diagnosis.
While Laura only got a diagnosis in 2020, she always knew she was different.
“I always felt as if I was a little bit broken because I used to get into situations and I didn’t know how I got there.” Sometimes she would wonder why people would react the way they did to her.
It wasn’t until after her second baby, in 2018, that she became very ill with postpartum depression and anxiety which led to a breakdown.
During her recovery process, she did a lot of journaling and introspection.
Jennifer Cook, the author of the bookwas in Ireland at the time Laura was unwell. She has known Laura for the last 10 years.
“Jennifer visited my home and said to me, ‘have you ever done the tick list’?" which is in her book.”
When Laura got around to it, she very quickly realised everything pointed towards her being autistic.
Also, during covid, when everyone went into lockdown, she realised how heavily she scripted conversations.
“I saw myself practising the conversation with the postman. And it was really obvious to me then. I started noticing a lot of my sensory issues.”
Having worked in the field herself, Laura knew exactly who she wanted to go to for her assessment. “I knew they were coming from a neuro-affirmative standpoint. That their reports would concentrate on strength rather than a deficit-based analogy of who I was.“
She booked an appointment in April 2020 and was seen four months later by a reputable psychologist.
Afterward, it took Laura three months to reconcile her reality with the piece of paper, because a lot of things that came up in the assessment report she treated as “Laura-isms”.
Once Laura decided to share her identification, people were surprised but at the same time very understanding and supportive. “That was always the kind of reaction I had hoped for but you never know what you’re gonna get.
“My husband has never othered me in any way, shape, or form, pre or post-identification. He has been around autism for so long that he just kind of rolled with it. If anything, I think it helped him to understand why I need what I need.”
Laura had some funny experiences as well. At a meeting for her daughter with the public health nurse, she told her “Oh, maybe she is autistic.” but was taken aback by the answer ‘No, not at all. There is no way.’
Laura persisted: “But I’m autistic. I’m identified as autistic.” and the public health nurse replied: 'Aren’t you doing great for someone with the autism."
When asked if receiving the diagnosis helped Laura in any way, she was clear.
“It helped me hugely. I am far more self-compassionate. I’m not as hard on myself.
"I afford myself the things that I would have thought myself to be luxuries by taking time out.
I’m also much more vocal about why I need certain things.
“We have even created certain spaces that are specifically to cater to my sensory needs.”
When asked for advice for autistic adults who are unsure about a diagnosis, Laura stressed her advice is always the same.
“You have to make that decision for yourself.
"However, you will never regret going for an assessment. You will likely regret not [going for it] and you will likely be left in a constant state of wonder.”
For Laura, it has been transformative and incredibly beneficial, but she also says “that’s not to say it’s for everyone. Especially if you are in an unsupported environment, it’s going to be a harder path because of the underlying hidden bias that exists around autism".
"It’s understanding how best to care for you, so you can be the best person you can be. And achieve everything you are capable of.”
At the end, Laura tells me her family is a very proud neurodivergent family.
“All we want is for others to open their perspective to new, alternative ways of being and understand that it’s not weird, or wrong. Just different.”