Receiving An Autism Diagnosis Has Helped Me Finally Make Sense Of Who I Am

Photo by Emma Veness
I’ve been autistic my whole life, but I didn’t know it until late last year.
Truthfully, I went through most of my life never even thinking about autism, because, as a woman, I never saw myself represented in autistic stories.
It wasn’t until my mid-20s (when I began to get involved with disability advocacy) that I heard women talking about their autistic experiences, and how autism is often missed in women, and gender-diverse and non-binary people.
I began to fall down a rabbit hole of research, which I later discovered is a very autistic thing to do. I wanted to know everything I could about it, particularly the often unseen perspectives of women. The more I read, the more I saw myself in their stories. I wondered if the meltdowns they described were the same as the ones I experienced. I wondered if my aversion to certain textures, scratchy fabrics and uncomfortable seams and tags on clothes, and my difficulties with light and noise were the same as their sensory issues. I wondered if I too had simply been masking my entire life, and not realised it.
I’ll admit, I felt like an imposter for a long time. I felt like I couldn’t be autistic, because surely, someone would have noticed it by now. I gaslit myself, dismissing my experiences, thinking it must just be in my head. But a persistent little voice inside me kept asking: what if?
If I’m being honest, I’ve always felt different. I didn’t quite fit in and felt as though the world was too overwhelming — too bright, too loud, and too confusing — with social cues and expectations that just didn’t make sense. But I convinced myself that everyone must feel like that.
Photo by Emma Veness
I convinced myself that I couldn’t be autistic because I could make eye contact. I convinced myself I couldn’t be autistic because I didn’t feel like I behaved inappropriately in social situations. I made sure of it. For decades, I watched my peers like a hawk, mimicking their responses, body movements and facial expressions to determine the correct way to behave, and used scripts in my mind to say the right words. I convinced myself I couldn’t be autistic because my interests didn’t feel "restricted" — just intense. And I was good at communication. So good that I made an entire journalism career out of it.
I didn’t realise I was masking or hiding. And every time I recognised another autistic trait, I’d tell myself it was a coincidence or anxious overthinking.
For the most part, I kept my thoughts about my potential neurodivergence to myself. I was already going through health battles; fighting to be believed about my chronic pain and fatigue, and applying for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in Australia to get these issues addressed. I didn’t need another thing to fight the healthcare system for.
Because when you live with a uterus, it’s often hard to be heard. We’re so often dismissed, and we can’t help but internalise that, especially when we live in an ableist society that sees differences as a bad thing. A world where we’re taught to make ourselves small. To fit in. To follow the rules. To conform, and fit inside non-disabled boxes, taking up as little space as possible. We’re also taught that labelling ourselves as different is a bad thing.
But it’s not.
Labels aren’t the problem: it’s the stigma and lack of acceptance and understanding of those labels that are the problem.

I’ll admit, I felt like an imposter for a long time. I felt like I couldn’t be autistic, because surely, someone would have noticed it by now.

zoe simmons
As a late-diagnosed adult, I can tell you that an autism diagnosis would have been life-changing for me, in all the best ways. Sure, flying under the radar and cosplaying as a neurotypical person granted me certain privileges. I wasn’t bullied and excluded because they knew I was autistic. However, I was still bullied and excluded, experiencing the same barriers many neurodivergent people face. I just didn’t know it. 
I mean, how was I supposed to know, when we as a society don’t really talk about autism? And when we do, it’s generally stories of tragedy and stigma, or judging the validity of someone’s autism because they don’t look or behave a particular way. Even most information online about autism is shrouded in shame, with negative language and the belief that we need to be changed.

Autism isn’t a bad thing: it’s a beautiful thing. And my diagnosis after regularly seeing a psychologist has changed my life because, finally, I understand. It feels like everything makes sense, especially when I look back to my childhood and teenage years, and realise why certain things were so hard for me. It’s an enormous relief. I wasn’t too much. I wasn’t too sensitive. I wasn’t too weak. I wasn’t overreacting. I was just different: and it makes no sense to me why our society sees that as a bad thing.
It feels like such a gift to understand myself in this way, and discover new ways to look after myself and prioritise my well-being. I’ve started using tools to help me manage when entering overwhelming environments. I’ve explored what textures make me feel safe. I’ve stopped suppressing my stimming, and even use sensory toys — though I do often get stares for being an adult and using what appears to be a child’s toy. I make sure to rest, especially after social situations, to avoid burnout. I set boundaries. I communicate what works best for me, which often includes non-speaking methods. I tell myself that it’s OK to not always know what to say. And I make sure my access needs are met — for my autism, and for my other invisible disabilities.
Because of my diagnosis, I’m also hopefully going to be able to access neuro-affirming support for the first time in my life — which is exciting. That is, being supported by people who understand that autism isn't a bad thing and I don't need to change to fit inside neurotypical boxes.
So many people go through their entire lives not knowing they’re autistic. I feel so grateful I know now — because it’s also helped me to love myself more. It's helped me connect with the online autistic community, which is absolutely wonderful. Finally, I feel like I belong, because I’ve found my people.
And somewhere along the way, I also found myself.
Zoe Simmons is an award-winning disabled journalist, copywriter, author, speaker and advocate. She believes words can change the world — and she candidly shares her experiences with disability to smash stigma, create change, and help others know they aren’t alone.  

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