An increasing number of people have started asking themselves, "Am I Autistic?" It's understandable why someone might feel they need to know the answer "for sure." In the US, long waitlists and staggering costs can make "for sure" feel impossible.
Instead of feeling hopeless about diagnosis, consider this: What if you just... don't get one? Below, we'll explore why a formal diagnosis might not be essential in your journey of self-discovery.
Section 1: It's what's on the inside that counts
1.1 You're the best expert on yourself
It's true that formal diagnoses can provide clarity. Yet, the validity of your experiences and self-reflection are equally important. Understanding your unique perspective on the world can be a powerful tool.
A huge part of feeling better is gaining insight into your own neurodivergent mind. No medical professional can do this for you. But on social media, you can hear the realizations that other Autistics share about themselves. Find inspiration for your own self-reflection and maybe even make a friend!
1.2 Self-knowledge is empowerment
The good news is that engaging in self-discovery can be empowering. By working to understand and meet your own needs, you get to control the process. This lets you explore your neurodivergent traits on your own terms. Instead of being diagnosed with a "disorder," you can start to build a positive autism identity. This is good news--we're learning that a positive Autistic identity improves mental health.
1.3 "Am I Autistic?" gets lost in translation
Autism is a spectrum, and each individual's experience is unique. Your personal experience may not always fit neatly into diagnostic criteria. Plus, the diagnostic criteria your doctor uses were not written by Autistics. This means there will always be a "translation error" involved in the process. If you've already gone decades masking your autism, you're used to hiding your traits. A neurotypical doctor reading neurotypical assessment questions might not account for this.
Try to stop worrying about whether you're "Autistic enough" to join the community. Dive into the community and start trying the strategies that other Autistics recommend. If they help you feel better, awesome! It doesn't matter why.
Section 2: A tough journey to nowhere
2.1 Barriers to diagnosis
Accessing formal diagnosis can be challenging due to various barriers. Some are individual, like financial constraints, transportation needs, or familial stigma. Limited specialist availability, provider biases, and a difficult-to-navigate medical system don't help matters.
2.2 I hope you're hungry! ...for nothing
When you think about receiving a formal diagnosis, what does it look like? Maybe you'll get a whole packet of information about local resources and support. Government programs will help you figure out your life. You'll start with a new therapist who has tons of autism-tailored suggestions. Everyone knows to be patient with Autistic kids, so now you get the grown-up version of that, right?
Unfortunately, for people in the US, this is usually far from true.
The Washington University Autism Center elaborates in its guide for self-identified adults. "Often, people seek an autism evaluation in hopes that it will open the door to the support that they need. Unfortunately, [...] [a]utism-specific services for adults are severely limited. [...] For many, the best part of learning they’re autistic is understanding themselves better and finding a like-minded community. This can be pursued without a formal diagnosis."
2.3 Help without the hassle
You have the power to skip all the barriers around diagnosis. You can choose to say, "I am Autistic because it fits my expert knowledge of myself. I can connect with other Autistic people and share with them. I am allowed to make my life better by being myself and respecting my own needs."
This is exactly why we started Autism Personal Coach. We don't care whether you have a formal diagnosis. If Autistic people's experiences resonate with you, that's enough for us. Our coaches have been through the same things and are eager to share what they've learned!
Section 3: Better together
3.1 The community knows the way
The online Autistic community provides a supportive space for us to share our experiences. The people involved are passionate about understanding and acceptance. They recognize that diagnosis is not the only way to validate neurodivergent perspectives. You'll meet people who have already answered the question "Am I Autistic?" for themselves. They'll help you do the same!
3.2 You don't have to be independent
In online spaces where individuals ask, "Am I Autistic?", there is a wealth of shared knowledge and empathy. These communities let us connect around shared experiences, not a diagnostic label. In other words, you don't have to prove anything to connect and get help. Most neurotypical-run services revolve around the mythical notion of "independence." The Autistic community knows better, and we're here to help each other.
Section 4: Self-identification helps those around us
4.1 Everyone deserves help
Questioning the necessity of formal diagnosis challenges traditional notions of who "deserves" help. By accepting that the autism spectrum is vast and varied, we encourage a more inclusive approach to neurodiversity. Promoting acceptance without rigid diagnostic criteria encourages empathy for its own sake.
To put it simply, people deserve support, without qualification. You may ask, "What, so I'm supposed to help anybody who needs it?" Yes, and then they help you back. That's how community works!
4.2 Different is normal
Embracing neurodiversity involves celebrating differences and understanding that everyone's journey is unique. The question, "Am I Autistic?" becomes more about self-discovery and acceptance than conforming to diagnostic expectations. This sets an example for other people in our lives who may need support, but feel they don't "qualify." A stranger who sees you wearing ear protection in public might feel more comfortable trying it for themselves.
There are many ways to explore the question, "Am I Autistic?" While formal diagnosis can provide valuable insights, it's not the only path. Engaging in self-reflection, embracing personal experiences, and connecting with a supportive community are equally valid. If you think you might be Autistic, we can help you on your journey, diagnosis or not. Contact us to learn more or get started today!