Starting the Autism Journey to Self-Understanding
An Autism 360 3T’s paper
ADHD 360 have recently stepped into the world of assessing and helping autistic people as we recognize the fact that many people with ADHD have autistic traits and similarly, many people with Autism may well have ADHD characteristics. In this our first 3T’s paper we explore what it may mean to have autism and start, with you, the journey to greater self-understanding.
The decision to seek an autism assessment can feel like a significant moment in your life; seeking answers to a question you may have asked yourself many times: “Do I have autism?”
So you’ve had your assessment, and it’s been confirmed that you do have autism, now what?
Now comes the start of a personal journey to fully understanding and accepting who you are, and a journey toward embracing what your autism means for you. The destination? To thrive in whatever you choose to do.
The diagnosis will likely provide an immediate answer to many questions you may have had about why you may react the way you do in some situations, or why you have a preference for particular ways of interacting. The answer for many such questions will be: “It’s because I have autism.”
There are key areas that you may want to think about in detail following your diagnosis to fully understand your autism. You may want to look at all of the topic areas we have written about, or there may be specific ones that you feel are particularly relevant for you. Each topic you explore takes you further on your journey to understanding, and embracing your autism.
Everyone’s autism is personal to them. Likes and dislikes, strengths and challenges will be different for everyone. For those newly diagnosed, it can be helpful to think about what autism means for you. You may have some insight into this already, which is likely what led to the decision to be assessed in the first place. Thinking about it, with the diagnosis confirmed, could be a helpful exercise in accepting the diagnosis, and understanding what it means for you.
Your identity as a person may now also include the statement ‘I am autistic’. The diagnosis does not change who you are. It simply adds to all the other qualities that make you YOU.
As you come to understand what autism means for you, it is an opportunity to consider how you interact with other people. This can refer to relationships with family and people close to you, as well as others in the community who you may only have a passing interaction with, i.e. a worker in a shop. Frequent interactions or intense relationships with others may currently be overwhelming, and you may want to feel more comfortable in approaching relationships with others.
Understanding your contribution to relationships, and your experiences of interactions gives the opportunity to recognise your value, and understand how to get the best out of relationships.
Communication happens in so many different ways that extend way beyond merely what is said. Everything we do is a way of communicating what we think or feel. It can be the tone of how something is said, or little gestures that are made, that all help to communicate with those around us.
People aren’t always aware of their own communication styles; this might be the same for you, for example what you are good at, or where you might find it more difficult. Communication, in whatever way you choose, is an important part of your life, and you will benefit from communicating the message you intended, and in a way that is best suited to whatever situation you find yourself in.
Managing difficult emotions
Whatever the reason, it is completely expected to experience moments in life when you have high emotions. Autistic people are no exception to this. Emotions can be intense, can be overwhelming and it can even be hard to identify what the emotion is.
We don’t want to be afraid of our emotions – they are needed to help us all make sense of how we feel at any given moment in time. They offer us clues about how we are feeling, and directly influence how we react.
Sometimes, if emotions are strong, or the way to manage the emotions is not controlled, it can complicate situations. This can then also influence emotions in a situation, and the cycle repeats itself. Recognising emotions, understanding what the emotions mean and how to best deal with intense emotions offers you more influence over how you are feeling, and importantly, what you do next.
Education / employment support
‘Owning your autism’ is your own personal journey. It’s a journey that will hopefully lead you to fulfilling your life goals, either through education, training, work or all three!
Navigating these worlds in the most successful way possible can involve adjustments to be made to the environment or adapting the approaches you take to these settings, so that you can demonstrate your skills and knowledge in full glory. Having the confidence, ability and opportunity to express your needs to your employer or learning setting will help to make that navigation process easier – they may just need some direction from you to help that happen
Mental health support
Everyone has ‘ups and downs’ in life. For autistic people this is no different. Managing and interacting with the world around you can lead to anxiety; feeling overwhelmed with understanding and making sense of what people expect from you, or in applying your communication skills with others. Alternatively there may be times when everything feels too much, and the motivation to do anything is reduced. Sometimes withdrawing from everyone can feel like the only solution to navigating a complicated world.
Understanding what influences your mental health, and what to do if you feel less than your optimal self, helps you to be in control of your mental health. Sometimes it is important to draw upon the support from others, and it’s important to know when that is needed, and who may be best to support you. That way your mental health is as positive as can be, and you have greater resilience to protect your mental health.
It is important to remember that your autism diagnosis is not all you are, though it is an important part of you. You deserve to move forward on your journey after diagnosis as informed and as confident as possible, to be the very best version of you.
Through your journey of discovering more about your autism, you are heading towards a more informed future that you influence. To understand yourself, and to know what works best for you, maximises your potential and keeps you in the driving seat. It’s your life so why wouldn’t you want to be at the helm of it?
To accept, embrace and thrive in your future, following your autism diagnosis, often involves more than just understanding yourself. In the same way as your journey involves taking a personalised view of what is important and beneficial to you, those around you often benefit from the same.
Family / caregiver education and support
A diagnosis of autism for a member of a family can be significant for all in the family, in addition to you as the person receiving the diagnosis. Parents and those close to you may have lots of questions about what the diagnosis means for you, and how they can best support you. They may also feel quite emotional, which may involve relief that you have finally got answers to your own questions.
Supporting the family and your friends is not about talking about you behind your back, or breaching your confidentiality. Instead, it is about informing families and those around you about what autism is accurately, and without stereotypes. It’s about offering them a space to reflect upon how autism makes you unique, and what better way to do this than by increasing their knowledge so they can truly understand this part of you? More information and understanding only adds to what they already know and care about you.
Education employment support and strategies
It may be unrealistic to expect a work or learning environment to have an existing depth of understanding about autism, and specifically what your autism is for you. After all, their focus is upon learning, or delivering upon workplace outcomes. Additional information and guidance for these settings can improve their understanding of what you need from them.
By working with employers and those responsible for learning, they will be better equipped to understand your needs, and more able to create an environment in which you can excel in whatever way you choose.
Overall, your autism is about you, and you should cherish that very fact. You are a wonderful, amazing human being that now understands themselves a little more. Of course, there may be a long journey ahead, but how fantastic is it that you have a bit more of a ‘head start’ now, and a whole set of resources to help you on that journey.
Please remember that your ADHD 360 team are and will be around you along the way. We offer free resources such as webinars and ‘power hours’ to help you with more understanding, our Speech and Language Therapists can help if needed and we can build in coaching and other therapy for you if you want it. Proudly, ADHD 360 offer something in terms of support for every budget, and our Care Coordinator will help you navigate your choices.