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Non-traditional autistic traits may be robbing you of a diagnosis & how a diagnosis may ease some of your suffering

Two years ago, I accompanied a 21-year old client to an autism assessment. When my client was told by the psychiatrist that she could not be autistic because she communicated too well and gave eye contact, my client suggested she had learned how to mask at a very young age. The psychiatrist had never heard of masking and did not like her authority being questioned. My client left with no diagnosis. And, her family who liked to say that "everyone is a little autistic" felt vindicated. Ugh!

In a Sacred Space Coaching YouTube interview, I asked Clinical Psychologist Julie Kangas if practitioners misdiagnose or don't diagnose because patients may not presenting with the "traditional" autistic traits. Immediately, Julie said yes and shared a story of meeting with a female adult client who requested a neurotype testing referral. This client masked her neurodivergent traits and nearly fooled Julie. Julie gave her the referral but was thinking," she isn't autistic."

Years later Julie ran into the young woman, who had received her autism diagnosis. After so much suffering, this client could now conceptualize everything she'd experienced through the lens of her autism. Julie was so glad she'd honored her client's wisdom and experience, instead of listening to the voice in Julie's own head. It was a big lesson about how differently this young woman's life might have gone without the diagnosis and better understanding of her neurotype.

Many more studies need to be done on women, especially BIPOC women. Our current data does not show the total picture of what autism can look like. Julie has been presented with enough real examples that have made her reexamine possible biases and question the available data. I hope other therapists will do as Julie and consider their clients' self knowledge and dig deeper into their own biases.

Does a diagnosis ease some of your suffering?

A diagnosis can be validating and allow for more self compassion. A late-diagnosed autistic can look at how differently things could have gone with getting an earlier diagnosis. I've certainly seen my share of clients who were grieving what could have been with an earlier understanding of their autism. The podcast Squarepeg dives into stories of late-diagnosed women and non-binary people, episode after episode. So many autistic folks share how much easier life would have been with an earlier diagnosis.

Julie suggests honoring the voice that tells folks that "maybe I do process the world differently. That doesn't mean I'm bad.That doesn't mean I'm broken. It doesn't mean I need to toughen up. It actually means that maybe I need honor some of things that very naturally occur for me and they are not going to change. They are not going to change from willpower or through exposure, exposure, exposure. No, that's always going to be a stressful thing for me and maybe I can be gentle with myself and build the accommodations or the life that work for me."

I really appreciate Julie talking about self compassion. After poor childhood experiences full of trauma because they are unique human beings, clients and peers sometimes come to me emotionally beat up. It is not easy to be in a neurotypical world. Having more compassion for yourself as you get help and heal can make a big difference.

Coaching for Autistic Adults

In my first meeting with a potential client, we may discover coaching might have to wait until the individual has spent some time with an autism-informed therapist and my first step will be to help them find the right therapist.

Other times, autistic clients have worked with a therapist OR are currently doing that work. As a coach, I can work alongside their therapist. In many cases, the therapist and I are the first two members of their new village, outside of their family members.

I do my best to create as safe an environment as possible. I believe in them while they learn to believe in themselves. I am honored when people trust me enough to do this and I never take that trust for granted.

Special Note to California Residents

For folks trying to get an autism diagnosis in California, our local regional centers may be able to assist you with getting a free diagnosis. California has 21 regional centers distributed throughout the state. For folks living near Sacramento like me, the closest regional cener is the Alta California Regional Center in Roseville, California. This link can help you find your local California regional center and get your autism diagnosis free of charge.

The state of California also has a self determination program that provides out-of-the-box financial support for autistic adults (and children). With SDP, you determine what the specific supports you need and create a budget to get those supports paid for by funding set aside for you. In other words, the money is not coming out of your pocket.

Several coaching clients see me weekly; their SDP pays for the coaching as well as other expenses necessary for a better work and personal life. In another case, a gentleman has a passion for hockey. His SDP plan pays for his skating training, his uniform and fees to join a hockey team, and other expenses associated with making this dream come true. He continues to have funds budgeted for his hockey team fees and he now works for the rink near his home.

This link will take you to an explanation of California's self determination program. The first step for getting started is to get a diagnosis if you don't have one. Again the regional center can help with that. The next step is to listen to their online orientation. You'll find information about that in my article.

**Listen here to my interview with Dr. Julie Kangas. If you like it, please share and subscribe so that I can reach more folks!


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