Seeking an autism diagnosis, whether it’s for yourself or a child, is a pivotal point in anyone’s life. A young woman recently shared her autism diagnosis story with us, which she wrote as part of her application to Harvard. It’s a personal, powerful commentary that she gave us permission to share.
“I despise tests. Between the preparation, trying to recall what I learned two weeks ago, and the anticipation for it to be graded, it is a fair statement to say that I find them absolutely horrid. In comparison, a test in which you only talk about yourself, read a picture book, and play with toys doesn’t seem too daunting, right? That is exactly what I did on September 18, 2020, a day that would change my life entirely. Following the suggestion of my stepfather to do so, I was administered the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-Second Edition, otherwise known as ADOS-2.
The “gold standard of autism screening” seemed way too easy to be true. It was perhaps the only test I felt entirely prepared for in my life. Unfortunately, upon actually beginning the assessment, I realized there was a bit more depth to it. Throughout the total duration of the test, I couldn’t help but feel self-conscious of everything I was doing or saying. After all, you can’t exactly study for a conversation. The flow of the test itself was strange as well, as one minute I was constructing a narrative regarding a personified spiky yellow ball with a candelabra, and the next, I was talking about my sorrows. Once the test was completed, the verdict was final. I am indeed autistic.
It seems a bit delusional that I spent the first 16 years of my life entirely unaware of the fact that I am neurodivergent. Looking back at my developmental years and early teens, that statement may be the most accurate one I have transcribed. Though my mother had taken me for an initial screening at two years old, the field was rampant with misdiagnosed patients. While growing up, I just thought that everyone had a strong distaste for looking at people as they talked, or had an obsessive dinosaur phase when they were younger, or felt like a slight change in plans was equivalent to a cataclysmic event.
The more I read about autism in adolescent teen girls, the more I felt like I wasn’t alone. The more I read, the more I understood about myself. Actions I had previously felt the need to justify were now just normal. There is nothing wrong with me—there was never anything wrong with me—it is just part of who I am. That same week, I sat with my mother and stepfather and wept. I was not full of grief, self-pity, nor fear but was rather sensing an overwhelming and profound sense of liberation.
Much to my disdain, autism tends to have a negative stigma attached to it. People will infantilize you, apologize to you for your diagnosis, and treat you as a computer with no social skills. Unfortunately, not everyone has been accepting of my diagnosis. One of such instances includes my biological father. Upon telling him, he did not have the most desirable response. To phrase this more eloquently, what he said was simply dehumanizing. He was cruel and insolent. Rather than taking the time to educate himself on what the autism spectrum is, he lashed out in shame and told me I wasn’t “retarded.” I was not on good terms with him to begin with, but this experience was the final nail in the coffin. Although it hurt, the situation allowed me to be so much more appreciative of those in my life who support and encourage me to be the best version of myself.
My diagnosis has acted as a catalyst for a new period of self-reflection, as I now know myself better than I have ever before. Through understanding my own behaviors, I can now immerse myself in social situations in a way that I am comfortable with. And I know my limits. Through a better grasp of my social divergences, I have been able to embrace my true self while building deeper connections with the friends and family I love. I have allowed myself for the first time in my life to be me without inhibition. So, while I do have a certain distaste for tests, I am beyond grateful that I took this one.”