I am an autistic adult. I was NOT an autistic child, I was a child who was; weird, naughty, annoying, clumsy, odd etc etc. This is because I WAS an autistic child, I just wasn’t diagnosed yet, so no-one knew that was why I was how I was. I have grown, developed, changed into an adult as all people do, yet my difference is still a core part of me. Part of me is glad that I did not have a diagnosis as a child because it meant that I never knew that people thought I could not do things, may not achieve things. It is much easier to achieve things when you have no idea that you aren’t meant to be able to do those things.
Part of me is sad that I did not have a diagnosis as a child, because I clearly met criteria, even in some of the ‘well-known’ autistic traits that people who know me now would not realize I had as a child, teen and young adult. If I had known I was autistic, I could have understood that yes I was different, but different was not different like and alien and no-one else in the entire world was that different, rather different like my whole tribe of autistics. I could have developed a stronger sense of self much younger, I could have been proud of attributes that others did not always appreciate in me, but that have been useful as an adult.
Mostly I don’t think about these things, but today a parent of an autistic child cried as she told me that until she heard me talking about my autistic way of experiencing the world, she had not really realised that her autistic child was going to grow into an autistic adult. She was not crying with sadness, she was just overwhelmed with new information and reacting in an honest and open way. I think it aired a fundamental flaw in current parent education; in focusing on autistic children and early intervention, the hidden implication seems to be that there is no autism in adulthood.
I am proud of my autism, it makes me who I am. Yes bits are difficult, incredibly difficult, but I always think ALL people have struggles of some sort at one time or another. My acceptance of my self, differences and all has led to a more peaceful existence with more passion and drive to advocate that different is NOT less, it is just different. And yes, to the question from a grandparent; autistics can and do have empathy. I came home and cried at the beauty in a poem by a young adult written on my FB feed, checked in on friends who have not been doing so well and took my overheating dog for a swim to cool off.
Teach your kids resilience, it is ok to make mistakes, often the best learning comes from working out how to avoid making the same mistake in the future. Love your kids, value their strengths and interests, work with them to minimize anxiety and maximize their engagement with life and contentment. This will help them to become the best autistic adults that they can. Kia kaha.