If you have received a diagnosis as an adult, you may feel a sense of relief, but also a mix of emotions. Many adults are diagnosed later in life due to being misunderstood by the medical community and, in many cases, misdiagnosed with other behavioural or mental health concerns. It is also common for autistic individuals to mask, or hide their autistic traits, to be accepted by their peers. So, what are the next steps after your adult autism diagnosis?
Many autistic adults celebrate and embrace their neurodiversity. Your diagnosis does not change who you are, but allows you to better understand your personality, challenges, and childhood. Learning, connecting, and building a support network will help you navigate the next stage of your journey.
“At first, it feels like you have so much to learn and so little time to learn it. There is so much information out there about autism. It can be difficult to know what information applies to and is helpful for you.” —Jake Anthony, Program Ambassador, AutismBC.
Knowledge is power. Learning about autistic traits and strengths will allow you a better sense of self. However, there is a large amount of information and misinformation, which can be overwhelming. Many harmful stereotypes persist, so be kind to yourself and look for reputable sources. There is no wrong or right way to be autistic and the language you use to self-identify is entirely up to you.
Some terms you may come across:
Stimming: An informal term short for the clinical term “self-stimulatory behaviours” and refers to repetitive behaviours or motions that a person does. Stimming is done when someone is feeling overwhelmed or excited as a way of focusing on one activity. An example is nail biting.
Executive functioning: Refers to the mental skills of working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. In short, these skills are responsible for things such as paying attention, planning, managing emotions, and understanding different points of view. Humans are not born with these skills and must develop them during childhood and into adolescence.
Neurodivergent: A non-medical term used similarly to the term “neurodiverse” to refer to people who have conditions such as autism, dyslexia, and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) that impact cognitive abilities and social skills. Like “neurodiverse,” the term “neurodivergent” is used to mean someone who “shows atypical neurological behaviour and development” (Dictionary.com, 2022).
Sensory processing disorder (SPD): Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition that affects how your brain processes sensory information (stimuli). Sensory information includes things you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. SPD can affect all your senses, or just one. SPD often means you’re overly sensitive to stimuli that other people are not. But the disorder can cause the opposite effect, too. In these cases, it takes more stimuli to impact you.
What is Autism?
“Late Diagnosed Autism”
Autism in Adults
Remember you are not alone in this journey. Connecting with other autistic adults can be both therapeutic and validating. Even if you are a social person already, you may relate to other adults on the spectrum differently. You may find you have much in common. Below are some starting points for seeking those important connections:
Getting Together on the Spectrum Autistic Adult Meetup Group
Support and Community Groups
Canucks Autism Network – Adult Programs
Popular Autistic Social Media Influencers
Build your Support Network:
You may have spent much of your life feeling misunderstood and having your sensitives ignored or downplayed. Building a solid support network is empowering and could help to address past traumas. There are a variety of community resources available for adults on the spectrum, from housing to mental health supports.
If you are employed, you may be eligible for workplace supports or accommodations, including a quiet workspace, modified schedule, sensory support, and organizational assistance (These are a right of everyone in BC but there are still many workplaces that request formal diagnosis before they are willing to offer supports). To learn more about reasonable accommodations click here.
Mental Health Resources
Accessing Financial Benefits
PAFN – Adult Employment Program
Douglas College – Autism CanTech Program
Pass Adult Services
After diagnosis, you may be eligible for the Persons with Disability Benefit (PWD). For more information on criteria and the application process click here
More on this subject:
Theme Resources: Autistic Adulting
Autism Q and A: Transitioning into Adulthood
AutismBC Talks: Adult Autism Diagnosis
ASD Diagnosis for Adults