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Autism in Adults

What is Autism?


Autism is a neurotype with presentations as varied and unique as the people who possess it. While no two autistic brains are the same, all autistic people share some, or all, of the following core features, which unite them as members of the autistic community:

  • bottom-up, detail-oriented processing style

  • need for structure and routine

  • strong, focused interests

  • social and communication differences

  • emotional expression and regulation differences

  • sensory processing differences

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Isn't Autism a disorder, not just a type of brain?


Before we answer this, here is a not-so-fun fact: there was once a time when the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM) listed homosexuality as a disorder. Disappointing, right? But it did, and it took years of rigorous research and societal movement to bring us to the point where it was no longer acceptable, normal, or respectable, to think of homosexuality as a disorder.


Well, the same thing is happening now with Autism. Just as it took time for more and more professionals to let go of labelling homosexuality as a disorder, this one is also taking some time, and it is still early in the process. Many professionals today - including the authors of the DSM and many autism tests and screeners – are still leaning on very old, outdated assumptions and models of autism.


But that will change over time, and we – alongside many other neurodiversity-affirming professionals, researchers, and practices - are proudly committed to helping that change along. So, we can gladly answer: Autism is not a disorder, it is a style of brain.



But if Autism isn’t a disorder, why do autistic people say they are disabled?


The world as we know it is neurotypical-favouring. This means that most systems, mentalities, and facilities are built and developed for neurotypical people, and not for autistic people. Living in a world that isn’t made for you is a disabling experience – there is a lot you are just not able to do. Much like a plant that is unable to thrive in the dark, an autistic person is not able to thrive (easily) within neurotypical structures, ideals, expectations, and spaces.


This disability to thrive does not come from the plant itself, or from the autistic person themselves; it comes from their unmet needs within their environments that don’t suit them. So, they are not inherently ‘disordered’ – there is nothing wrong with their innate processes - they are just disabled within the wider context of their environment. How do we know? Well, once the plant is given some sun, it thrives; and once an autistic person is given the right accommodations, they thrive.


Doesn’t Autism only happen in children?


No. Autism is most often identified in cishet boys, but this is not the only population who are autistic. People of all genders, nationalities, ages and walks of life can be autistic. As is the case with ADHD, autism is a life-long neurotype. So, whether it’s identified in childhood or not, it is there for life! Those who are not identified as autistic in childhood, are still autistic – they just might not know it, or they mask and therefore don’t present in stereotypical or traditionally noticeable ways. It’s never too late to be identified as autistic!


Is Autism different for adults?


Autism is autism at any age, but as is the case with ADHD, adults who are diagnosed later in life or not at all, do face extra challenges and are at risk of developing various mental health conditions as a result of living in a neurotypical-favouring world with an unidentified, unsupported, and most importantly, unembraced Autistic brain. Many people in this position go through life knowing that they are different, and working very hard to cover it up – this is called masking. It’s very easy to develop a negative self-narrative this way.


Sadly, unidentified, and late-identified Autistics will often receive many mental health diagnoses before they eventually find out that they are autistic. Some diagnoses that are very common for this population include: borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder, social phobia, agoraphobia, obsessive compulsive personality disorder, bipolar, anxiety, eating disorders, complex trauma, perfectionism, rejection sensitive dysphoria, and more.

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Is there a cure for autism?


Trying to cure autism would be like trying to cure brown hair. It can’t be done, and it shouldn’t be done. What we aim to do instead, is address the disability experienced by autistic people within the neurotypical-favouring world. We do this by helping them to re-frame negative self-narratives they may have picked up along the way, supporting them in defining and fulfilling their support needs, advocating for them, and working through any mental health concerns they may be facing.


Should I get assessed?


Having an assessment for autism is a personal decision. It’s important to know that one of the highest benefits that could ever come from autism identification, is accessing community, and the autistic community whole-heartedly accepts and supports self-diagnosis. So, if you are someone who has done a lot of research and introspection and you are already pretty sure about your neurotype, then you may not need a formal assessment and diagnosis. However, we highly recommend getting in touch with the autistic community, starting the healing and re-framing process with your therapist, and exploring your autistic support needs.


For anyone who wants a more thorough understanding of themselves and their cognitive and educational profile, as well as evidence-based support around tailored accommodations and support access options, a formal assessment is recommended.


Want to find out more?


To learn more or to enquire about our Autism assessments, contact us at: info@treatyourselfwell.com.au, or give us a call on (02) 9555 4810.



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