Resisting the Temptation to Diagnose Autism
After I started a deep dive into autism symptoms, I mentally diagnosed numerous family members with autism. In fact, I thought most of them were more autistic than I was. It wasn’t until a few years later that I began to be able to see that all of the symptoms I saw in others were things that were even more clearly manifested in myself. Perhaps one of the most frustrating symptoms of autism is lack of self-awareness, and this was true of me. For years, I could see autism in others, but not in myself.
It’s taken me another number of years to learn to resist the temptation to diagnose other people, especially those who are related to me, with autism. And by this, I don’t mean just not telling them that I think they have autism. I mean to actually learn to accept that some people don’t feel any connection to the diagnosis, even after I explain in some detail why I think it’s useful. They don’t see themselves as autistic sometimes because they don’t see a deficit in their behaviors. Sometimes they don’t feel a need to understand themselves better than they already do. Sometimes they don’t have the need I seem to have to see the patterns in their behaviors and needs in categories the way that I do.
And this doesn’t mean that they are resisting the diagnosis because they can’t see themselves or “the truth.” I’m finally learning to let go the need for other people to be like me. It’s a weird kind of social tick, wanting people to be like me in my autism, wanting them to have the same light-bulb experiences I’ve had in learning about autism, especially late-diagnosed women who seem to have high empathy and are artistic like I am.
Part of all of this is accepting that other people simply have different experiences in the world than I do. I spent much of my life in a religion that seemed to encourage the idea that there was a “one-size-fits-all” way to happiness. I believed for a long time that other people would be happier if they just followed the rules of my religion as I did. It made me sad that they couldn’t feel the same happiness I did when doing the rule-following and accepting my narrow worldview.
Leaving my religion has forced me to have far too many conversations with other people who remain attached to that religion, trying to convince them that I am not like them and that doing the same thing that they did wasn’t working for me. This may be a pretty basic human understanding of the world that I’m coming to fairly late in life, but it’s an important one. Other people just don’t have the same experiences I do. I have to accept that, and stop trying to convert them to the “one true way.” There is no one true way, as much as my old self wanted that to be true.
I want to make patterns of autism as I’ve always made patterns of everything in my life. This is how I’ve always made sense of the world, this pattern-finding. It’s worked well — except when it doesn’t.
So yes, I’m giving up diagnosing other people with autism. I may see certain behaviors that look like autistic behaviors, but I don’t leap to conclusions anymore. Every autistic behavior can be linked to another diagnosis, or to no diagnosis at all. Stimming. Patterns, habits, schedules. Rigidity. Social cluelessness. Sense of humor deficit. Lack of empathy. Food sensitivity. Sensory overstimulation.
There is a wide spectrum. And also, there are simply people for whom a diagnosis isn’t useful, and that’s fine. I don’t need to try to convince them. People will seek out a diagnosis on their own if they want one.